For a while now we’ve been watching the new Carluccio’s Caffe take shape in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire… little noses pressed against the window, wishing the time away until the sign finally turned to ‘open’.
Finally, piles of delicious-looking meringues and lemon tarts appeared in the window, and we rang up to make a reservation. ‘We only take reservations for 40% of the restaurant’, we were told. ‘The other tables are first come, first served’. Seeing as there was only two of us, we decided to chance it, and happily, we were in luck. Be warned, though, a family of four were turned away, and there’s nowhere to sit and wait as the reception area doubles up as the shop so it’s likely you’ll be in the way wherever you stand. There’s no sitting and waiting at the bar area either, as people were eating there too. Next time, we’ll book early.
The interior is light, airy and modern, with a mix of semi-circular banquette seating and normal tables. The kitchen area is open and the whole place was bustling. The service was informative, mega-friendly and very efficient.
We started with marinated olives and a ‘bread tin’ with a mixture of different bread, from soft foccacia to thin Ligurian crisp bread. There was olive oil and balsamic for dunking and we sat, munching away, enjoying the atmosphere. Our lovely server recommended a 2011 Gravina (£23) which she said would be perfect teamed with seafood. Great choice. It was light, floral and indeed perfect. For a starter, we shared an ‘antipasto massimo’ plate which was a very generous selection of Italian meats, marinated olives, stuffed chicken, loads more bread, a delicious caponata and garlicky green bean salad.
For the main course, we both chose fritto misto with a green salad. With hindsight, this wasn’t a brilliant choice as, although the fritto misto was delicious, with crispy-coated squid, whitebait, prawns and seabass (again, MASSES of it) and a yummy garlic mayonnaise, we regretted our decision as after a while it all seemed rather heavy and samey. Our waitress expressed concern that we didn’t finish, but we were both a bit full up and a bit, well, bored with crunching through our dinners. Bad planning on our part.
Skipping dessert, we ended our meal with VERY good coffee. The whole lot coming to £80 including wine. You can eat a lot more cheaply though as they do a fixed price two courses for £9.95.
We’ll definitely go back again for dinner, and this time we’ll chose a bit more carefully. We loved Carluccio’s though, and decided to go back the next weekend for breakfast. It is to die for. Go there if you can. Again, the portions are generous, and we feasted on the most perfect grilled pancetta, creamy herby scrambled eggs and heavenly mushrooms all piled high on Italian bread. The hot chocolate is delicious and the coffee amazing. £55 for the four of us (well, the coffees were quite small so we all had two each) meant it was a treat rather than an every weekend sort of outing, but still. Worth every penny.
We’ll be back very soon. Our verdict? Favoloso!
Carluccio’s is in the old town hall, Berkhamsted, Herts. Tel: 01442 877807.