A cold and wet late October’s afternoon in Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre doesn’t perhaps present one with the wealth of independent eateries that I’ve become accustomed to in my midweek London escapades, but there I was, hunting for some warm sustenance to continue braving the crowds. Strolling along I saw the lunchtime set menu offer at Carluccio’s, two-courses for £11.95 and headed on in, never having set foot inside a Carluccio’s before but having high hopes of an Italian lunchtime tasty treat.
Carluccio’s Italian Restaurant Review, Milton Keynes
First impressions count and unfortunately, things were off to a shaky start; despite it being fairly quiet, an uncomfortable couple of minutes passed before a greeting was offered, before being directed straight to a dirty table. The welcome wasn’t particularly warm so the dining experience already felt like a huge inconvenience to the restaurant than an opportunity to interact with a valued customer through the door – instead, I felt like the arrival of a bad smell. Lovely.
Ignoring that initial experience and having perused the short set menu, I ordered Antonio’s Chicken Liver Pâté to start, followed by a Beef Ragu Linguine; two relatively straight forward dishes that should be the lifeblood of the Italian chain.
The starter of Antonio’s Chicken Liver Pâté arrived relatively promptly. Visually, it was an acceptable effort although not ground-breaking by any means, the pâté smooth and red onion chutney appetising. My principle annoyance, however, was that the pâté was delivered icy-cold, straight I suspect from a very cold fridge; not only was this impossible to spread as a consequence, but it really let the dish and the potential flavour impact down.
Next up was the arrival of the Beef Ragu Linguine; again, this appeared fine. However, this dish was probably the biggest disappointment of all, lacking any real recognisable flavour or punchiness, evidently lacking seasoning. I recall that my fellow diner also commented on the blandness of the ragu in particular, something either of us could have resulted up better ourselves, despite semi-amateurish efforts – which is often a yardstick I use when judging a meal out.
Sadly, the service throughout the lunch service failed to improve, drinks taking upwards of twenty minutes to appear after the starters had materialised and did so without an apology or smile – one could perhaps concur that the service was as warm as the pâté. The restaurant remained somewhat dirty and there wasn’t really anything redeemable about the overall experience that made it a memorable or pleasant one.
The sad fact is that Italian-cooking legend Antonio Carluccio hadn’t had a working connection with the chain which brandishes his name for some years leading up to his passing away some several weeks ago; perhaps then the business is missing the very ingredient that gave it a unique proposition; passion. Italian passion. Antionio passion. Unenthused serviced, sloppy cleanliness and disappointing food are unfortunately hallmarks of a business that seems to have lost its way.
Interestingly, having spoken to various friends and fellow-bloggers including the illustrious RobsRibs, it turns out that this isn’t a one-off experience, the general consensus that Carluccio’s is notoriously a mixed bag and standards seem somewhat inconsistent across the chain. In fact, since writing this review, I had a further poor experience in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 on my recent departure to Abu Dhabi, where on a quiet Thursday morning, service was haphazard and abysmally slow – albeit to their credit, somewhat courteous.
I hope for the sake of the long term aspirations that the people now in ownership of the Carluccio’s business listen to the customer feedback and double-down efforts to ensure that both customer service and it’s food remain in keeping with the legacy of the great man Antonio Carluccio – or else, fade into the faceless plethora of restaurant chains that adorn well-trodden retail parks and high streets up and down the UK.
When you’re on an equal playing field with microwave-friendly chains, you know you’ve got to pull your socks up. Quickly.