A little while back I went along to the second Carluccio’s to open in York, on St Helen’s Square, to check out the space, have a few nibbles and meet the man who contributed his name to the venture. It was a lovely evening and a great chance to check out the space along with plentiful fizz, snacks and good company. What that evening didn’t afford a chance to do was check out the full food offering, so scheduling a return visit was pretty much an inevitability. Grace and I made our way there on a Monday evening to see if the food would be as well presented as the building.
We were quickly seated and presented with menus to review while we relaxed with a drink, Grace enjoying a ‘Summer Garden’ mocktail that she describes as “A fresh tasting, saccharine still drink. A delicate blend of the fresh herbal notes of elderflower cordial, mint limonata and cucumber juice, lengthened with apple juice for the sweet kick”. Meanwhile I was surprised the prices of the wines by the glass hadn’t been knocked up a pound or two to reflect the upmarket surrounds. With our drinks, we enjoyed some ‘Olive all’ascolana’, breaded and deep fried olives that had been stuffed with mince. Grace dubbed them to be an Italian interpretation of a scotch egg. I take base satisfaction in anything deep fried that contains meat where it’s not expected so we were both pleased!
Having previously been entertained in the upstairs area, it was nice to get a handle on the dining space and deli. I’d not previously clocked the relaxed bar in the front of the building and had I done so I’d have stopped by a bit earlier for a spot of people watching before dinner. The space is large without feeling overwhelming or fussily broken up with unnecessary furnishings, but most importantly, it justifies its occupation of the building. This is certainly not a cheap and cheerful refurbishment; the amount of polished metal will likely breed irritation in the staff at some point as they attempt to maintain its lustre.
Before long, I was tucking into a brace of arancini balls that lacked uniformity of shape to a degree that a less forgiving diner may be irritated. Leaving aesthetics aside though, it was a satisfying starter that paired mozzarella and basil in one ball against provolone and beef ragu in the other with a light, sweet grilled pepper dipping sauce.
For mains we split our efforts between cod in cartoccio (cod cooked in paper with lemon, tomato and couscous) and a beef ragu linguine. As the dish was promised to be topped with crispy prosciutto, it was a bit of a surprise to find it subject to a curious inversion that placed the prosciutto at the bottom of the dish. While the ingredient didn’t lose its flavour, it lost a bit of snap that would have elevated the otherwise well executed sauce and perfectly cooked pasta.
The cod was tender and remained obscured at the table by a couple of slices of lemon, though it would have benefited from the tomatoes it sat on coming to the fore to give a splash of colour. The fish was very pleasant though and balanced well against the couscous to make up a nice light dish before we readied for dessert.
To finish the evening, I asked for a tiramisu while Grace teed up a panna cotta for a lighter end to her meal. The tiramisu alternated layers of boozy cream and rich coffee-soaked sponge to predictably satisfying effect while Grace said that her panna cotta didn’t muck about, offering loads of unctuous creaminess and a fantastic raspberry coulis.
While there were a few errors in the food, nothing compromised the flavours that came from the kitchen and the service and surroundings hit the spot. This is a well loved building that offers up great views of St Helen’s Square while you enjoy hearty Italian food.
Disclaimer: While the meal was not charged for, all opinions are as impartial as ever.