42 Oxford Castle, OXFORD OX1 1AY
Tel: 01865 24413
I have to confess that the idea of a quick lunch in Carluccio's Oxford didnt fill me with huge anticipation. To be honest, I was expecing Yet Another Generic Italian Restaurant - and my feelings about those are well documented in prior reviews!
However, I was utterly mistaken in my expectations, and ended up pleasantly surprised!
The place itself feels a little strange, walking through the deli area to get to the tables. While we had a table tucked away at the back, well away from the main door and any potential draughts, I would think it would feel a little exposed sitting near the retail area.
The shop itself is, of course, an Aladdin's Cave for a foodie, with a wide range of traditional Italian delicacies, along with other treats and dry goods. The only thing missing was the smell - while there's lots of good food around, there wasn't the welcoming smell of fresh produce and herbs that one might expect.
For lunch, we started with the savoury bread tin, which comprised a lovely range of breads including a delightful focaccia, with a light texture and a well-salted crust. There was also an excellent sun-dried tomato and walnut (I think) wholemeal. All was served with a first-class, fruity olive oil for dipping.
Our antipasti were a chicken pate for The Darling G (good flavour, and with a firmer texture than most, which gave it a more substantial feel), and for me a surprising dish - Vitello Tonnata. This was thin slices of medium-rare veal, topped with a tuna mayonnaise and capers. I was surprised at how well they went together, and thankfully the capers added to the overall dish rather than overpowering it, as they can so often do.
On to the main courses, where Gerry went for Penne Luganica, which was a delicious ragu made with sausagemeat. I opted for Linguine al Frutti Di Mare, which was packed with seafood and had a clean, clear sauce sparkling with garlic and chilli.
Portions for both courses were more than adequate!
We were in a hurry, so skipped desserts and coffees, but if they were anything like the other courses then I'm sure they'd be good. The bill was reasonable at £41 including a tip for (excellent) service, however neither of us were drinking which pushed the overall cost down.
In all, and as I mentioned at the start, this is anything but a Generic Italian Restaurant. The food's excellent, the service quick and attentive, and the price reasonable. While the nature of Carluccios would make it less attractive for an intimate dinner for two, for a good lunch it's hard to fault it.