The Godfather

Lower Ground Level,
The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai,
United Arab Emirates

27th September, 2018

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” – A Tale of Two Cities

You all know the famous line that doctors usually give patients, right? No? Well, it kind of goes something along the lines of “Hi! Thank you for coming in today. I’ve just received the results from your scan. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” Seem familiar to you? A recent study, conducted by the PAA (Patient Answer Association), revealed that nine out of the ten patients who were asked said question chose to hear the bad news first. Now, I don’t make up these statistics (clearly!), but I think it would be safer if we stuck with the 90 percentile. I don’t know, my math isn’t that great!

November 2017 – The world bid a sad, yet fond, farewell and paid its respects to one of the greatest chefs ever to grace the culinary sphere. Antonio Carluccio. It seemed like only yesterday that I was watching him on YouTube (rather FoodTube!), grating Pecorino cheese, shallow frying Guanciale, and tossing a healthy portion of Spaghetti on to his plate in an attempt to teach me the art of cooking an authentic Italian Spaghetti Carbonara. The ‘Godfather of Italian gastronomy’ began his culinary journey as a wine merchant in the German port city of Hamburg, before taking the plunge across the North Sea to work as a manager in his brother-in-law’s restaurant in London’s Covent Garden. It was at this very restaurant – the Neal Street Restaurant – where Antonio would meet (by hiring) a future celebrity chef – one who most of you would, hopefully, be familiar with, and one who was responsible for introducing me to Antonio (virtually, duh!) – Jamie Oliver! Italian cuisine may never be the same without Chef Antonio, but his legacy remains intact, embedded in the ethos of chefs that he has inspired and fortunately, for us gluttons, in Carluccio’s – his chain of restaurants.

I’ve been fortunate/unfortunate (no spoilers yet!) to have dined at Carluccio’s twice, and so it only seems fitting that this blog be a two-parter – just like the last Avengers movie. So here it goes, here’s to you readers, those spared by Thanos.

Leamington Spa, March 22nd 2018 – Winter came and it refused to leave us! It was the beginning of a two month long Easter vacation. With the snap of a finger, the once lively and energetic student town of Leamington Spa transformed itself into an eerie and desolate ghost-town where nay a footprint disturbed the white, thin, snow-covered roads. It was on one such evening that we decided to venture out for an Italian meal. Staying on the other end of town, my knowledge of Leamington Spa’s culinary robustness was fairly limited. Finding a restaurant, however, wasn’t as tough a task as I thought it would be. My four years in research finally paid dividends. This was the moment I had worked my arse off for! There was no hesitation on our dinner destination upon learning of Carluccio’s existence.

Dubai, September 27th 2018 – Marhaba Dubai! Kayf Ala Halik?! Yup, I was back in Dubai (albeit for a short visit) and I was in the mood to dine, wine, and gain weight. (Wait…) The only problem was I didn’t know where to begin? Hold on! Isn’t that’s what friends are for? It finally makes sense! I picked up my phone and proceeded to “discuss” the potential list of restaurants that we (I had to invite them!) could visit for dinner. Our options became much clearer after we narrowed our field of vision down to Italian cuisine, and when Carluccio’s popped up on my radar, I thought “Why not?” A sentiment shared by my friends. Carluccio’s at the Dubai Mall it was!

Leamington Spa, March 22nd 2018 – We arrived at a surprisingly solitary Leamington Spa at around half past eight. We were just about to make it in time for our reservation. All we had to do was find the restaurant! The only problem was that the restaurant was hidden away in a short alleyway, tucked inside the main road. It’s a good thing we live in a technology-driven world. I opened up Google Maps and we made our way to the restaurant, the only sound in a two mile radius being our feet tapping as it hit each stone on the pavement.

Dubai, September 27th 2018 – The plan was to arrive at 8 pm, given everyone’s work schedules. Being my punctual self (rather, lack of traffic!), I arrived at the Dubai Mall at quarter to eight. The only problem was I didn’t know where the restaurant was. Circumnavigating Dubai Mall is akin to Columbus’ exploration, with each turn bringing up a new surprise. Fortunately, the mall is equipped with information booths that direct you to the exact location. Hah! Wish you had that, didn’t you Christopher? It wasn’t long before I found where I needed to be. However, when I reached the boardwalk, I couldn’t find the restaurant! Surely, a restaurant as famous as Carluccio’s would be right up front? Was my eyesight deceiving me? Turns out, it wasn’t. All I had to do was move a few steps to my right (like a chess piece) and there it was! Snuggled inside a niche was the bright blue board that screamed the Italian chef’s surname. As I looked around, I was sure there was something amiss. Where were all my friends?! (And I was the late one!) Ten minutes past eight, and they arrived, walking at their own pace while I waited patiently, my stomach growling like a lion.

Leamington Spa, March 22nd 2018 – We made our way inside, and were warmly greeted by the receptionist, who ushered us towards our table. While the ambience – the dim lights, the delicatessen, and the olive green furniture – screamed Italian, the crowd was representative of the entire town – it was nearly non-existent! Ah, well! I guess, we were in for a more hospitable evening. We were handed the menu cards and proceeded to place our order.

Dubai, September 27th 2018 – As we made our way in, we were given the freedom to choose our dining table. We opted for the table bang centre of the restaurant. We love being the centre of attention! As we sat down, we were promptly handed the menu cards by the waiter, and proceeded to scour through the items. As we pondered as to what we wanted to order for dinner, the complimentary breads arrived, accompanied by the Italian norm – olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Famished, I began to tear apart the breads and douse them in a mixture of both dressings (which wasn’t the best idea). As time passed, and our contemplation showed no sign of ceasing, the waiter began to circle our table like a vulturous shark. In an attempt to force decisions amongst my friends, I called for the waiter to take our order. The arrival of the waiter brought about a rush in the decision making, and in a matter of minutes, we had placed our order.

 ( From left to right ): Lamb Shank; Chicken and Mushroom Pappardelle ( Pink sauce ); Tagliatelle Ragù; Chicken and Mushroom Pappardelle ( White sauce ); Tiramisu; Chocolate Berry Meringue
(From left to right): Lamb Shank; Chicken and Mushroom Pappardelle (Pink sauce); Tagliatelle Ragù; Chicken and Mushroom Pappardelle (White sauce); Tiramisu; Chocolate Berry Meringue

Leamington Spa, March 22nd 2018 – The starter of lemon and garlic marinated grilled prawns arrived at our table, followed by the main course of lamb chops, sirloin steak, gemelli pasta, and the chicken saltimbocca. Overall, I quite enjoyed my dinner that evening. The grilling of the prawns added a smoky texture to the seafood, while the lemon and garlic marination wasn’t too overpowering and added a much needed acidity to the dish. The bowl of gemelli pasta – or the twin (gemini, getit?!) pasta – seemed quite a monstrous task, but with each morsel the task seemed less arduous. You can never go wrong with sausage and pasta (right?)!

Dubai, September 27th 2018 – We decided to skip on starters as we filled up on bread. Fortunately, the main course wasn’t too far away. The waiter arrived with the four pasta dishes, each presented in an intricate, blue mosaic tiled bowl. balancing on his arms – the Tagliatelle Ragù and the three Chicken and Mushroom Pappardelle. Where was my lamb shank? It’s times like these when the Balotelli “Why Always Me?” t-shirt would have come in handy. While I awaited my lamb shank, I decided to help myself to the other dishes. Don’t worry! I merely took a small bite (or what was offered). The Tagliatelle Ragù was decent enough. The tagliatelle pasta was a perfect al dente; the beef in the ragù was still juicy and moist, although the ragù sauce exuded far more acidity than required. That’s not to say that the dish was inedible, but the flavours weren’t entirely balanced.

With regards to the Chicken and Mushroom Pappardelle, two of the three ordered were prepared with pink sauce, while one remained in its original creamy sauce. The obvious difference – apart from the colour (I’m not a food racist!) – was the richness of the sauce. As I took my first bite of the dish, I could feel the richness of the cream and cheese make its way down my oesophagus and into my stomach. It wasn’t an unpleasant one, but certainly one that validated my decision to opt out of a cream sauce pasta. The pink sauce, on the other hand, while not a polar opposite, certainly was more balanced as the richness of the cream was subdued by the acidic nature of the tomatoes in the red sauce. Certainly a dish that one could eat and not feel completely guilty about it or think about heading to the gym right afterwards. Similar to the tagliatelle, the pappardelle pasta was al dente and not mushy despite it being completely coated in either of the sauces. The chicken was cooked well and moist and not overpowered by either the sauce or the mushrooms. The garnish of pine-nuts added a crunch to the entire dish.

No sooner had I taken a bite from the last of my friends’ dishes than the lamb shank arrived at the table. Served in a similar blue mosaic plate, the shank – sat centre – towered over the mashed potatoes and gravy. The dish looked monstrous! It felt as though the chefs at Carluccio’s had managed to find themselves the largest lamb (or swapped it with sheep) on the planet with arguably one of the largest shanks. Perhaps it wasn’t the best of ideas to have tasted some of the other dishes. While the shank was clearly not the most pleasing of dishes to the eye, it was certainly one of the tastiest on the table. You know the dish is solid when the meat just falls of the bone during the carving process. The lamb was juicy, soft, and melted in the mouth possibly due to the long and slow cooking process. The juices from the meat were accentuated moreso by the puddle of gravy lying at the bottom of the plate. The side of mashed potatoes wasn’t too exciting even though it was seasoned to perfection and added a layer of cream and richness to an already heavy dish. If there was one drawback of the dish, it would have to be the lack of spice, despite the de-seeded slices of red chilli on the shank. An addition of spice to the dish would have not only brought another flavour to the dish, but the mashed potatoes would have been the perfect accompaniment to suppress the spice levels with its creamy richness.

Leamington Spa, March 22nd 2018 – It was time for the most important part of the meal – Dessert! Unsure of what to order, we thought it best to ask the waiter for her recommendation. She did well to narrow our choices down to two (she couldn’t decide between them), but as we still were at an impasse, we decided to order both of them. The Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding and the Chocolate Fondant. It was a decision we came to appreciate as we began to devour both desserts.

Dubai, September 27th 2018 – With our stomachs at a near full tank, we were unsure as to whether we wanted to venture into the area of sweetened goods. However, after what I would term as ‘subtle persistence’ from my end, we decided to go ahead and order not one, but TWO (!!) desserts. The first was an easy choice – no Italian meal can be complete without a truly authentic Italian dessert – and what better Italian dessert than the Tiramisu! The second took us a while, as we contemplated between the traditional Chocolate Fondente and the uncommon Chocolate Berry Meringue. In the end (it does matter), the more uncommon and unique dessert found its place on our table. Unlike my English excursion, this was a decision we would come to regret.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Tiramisu, in particular due to the addition of coffee – a vital ingredient in the tiramisu – and so I decided to refrain myself from having a bite of the dessert. From what I could see, it went down quite well with the rest of the table. The one I was most intrigued by was the meringue. This curiosity was soon displaced by puzzlement and amusement upon the arrival of the second dessert. Now, I know what a meringue is, though I have often seen it in small quantities either on top of cakes and pastries or by itself in bakery stores. However, what was presented to us at the restaurant was the polar opposite of small. The meringue – shaped like an ostrich’s egg – sat in the centre of the plate. Half of the meringue was covered in chocolate, while the rest was left untouched. It resembled an unfinished giant Kinder egg! The problem with the dish, apart from its larger than life size, was the fact that breaking down the meringue was akin to chiseling a stubborn rock. It took forever and every time we managed to break out a piece, it set of an explosion like 1960 (I kid, of course!). The dish certainly made you work for every bite, though unfortunately the rewards weren’t as beneficial as we thought it would be. The best part of the dish had to be the chocolate covering and the acidity from the berries to fight the sweetness of the cream and meringue.

With the tiramisu now just an empty plate, and the meringue only half eaten, we decided to call it a day (rather, night!). We waited a few minutes before we asked for the bill. A few minutes later, we made our way towards the Dubai Mall exit, as some of us made our separate ways. This is where our two-part story concludes, with one final culminating conclusion. My experience – in Leamington Spa, as well as in Dubai – was nothing short of satisfying. From the ambience to the food to even the warm reception and service from the Carluccio’s staff, which by the way was one of the highlights of both my visits and something Antonio (looking from above) will be smiling proudly upon. It would certainly be apples and oranges if I were to try and compare the two visits and make a decision as to which one of my visits proved to be better. I suppose you would just have to wait for my review of Carluccio’s – Leamington Spa, should it come about! Until then, it’s arrivederci!

Carluccio's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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