Chain restaurants don’t tend to be that newsworthy, but in the case of Carluccio’s arrival in Barnet, you have to make an exception.
The food is generally solid and predictable – modern Italian cuisine with a bit of flair and reliably child friendly, but their branding is absolutely top notch. This is what makes the difference in the Barnet context. The William Pears Group owners of The Spires since 2013 have been able to transform the entrance to the shopping centre and Carluccio’s adds a touch of glamour to the high street*. Along with Mélange just up the road, locals finally have more options within strolling distance and they are both conveniently open all day.
When it comes to designing and fitting out new premises, Carluccio’s clearly do their homework. On my last visit we were sat towards the back near the kitchen and, looking back across the large room towards the bar (unusual for Carluccio’s restaurants), the quality of the furnishings and décor became clear. They have done a truly lovely job. You can’t believe it’s the same space that only a few months earlier was an interiors shop that quite frankly looked like Saddam Hussein’s garage sale.
Compared with early reports service has improved considerably now that the restaurant has had a chance to bed down (and the novelty has worn off a little). Those early weekends in May were heaving by all accounts. We stuck to the good value set menu at £10.99 for two courses, £14.49 for three with a keenly priced glass of Sicilian white for £3.25 (although the price rises unannounced if you order more). Our starters in particular stood out – my husband’s fresh vegetable soup and my generous portion of silky smooth chicken liver pâté served with ciabatta bread unnecessarily anointed with olive oil making it overly rich, but otherwise a very tasty dish. Our daughter had her usual pasta with tomato sauce. We all had desserts and the bill for the three of us came to just shy of £50. All as good as you’d expect from a decent branch of this dependable chain, what’s more ours includes one of their little deli shops so we can keep stocked up on their delicious lemon olive oil.
As one of our neighbours – a long term resident – observed, it’s good for Barnet isn’t it? It most certainly is. It’s a hopeful, positive beacon on our high street shining out from among the charity shops, gradually being joined by other forward looking businesses. Welcome Carluccio’s.
*In July the William Pears Group sold The Spires to AIMCo, a Canadian investment fund and the shopping centre is due to receive a £7 million upgrade under this new ownership. See the Barnet Society website for more information.
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