AnTONIO Carluccio, the big, cuddly grandfatherly Italian TV chef, has joined the new, more upmarket restaurants on the first floor of the Oasis at Meadowhall.
Assistant manager Emily Wilde said that the restaurant and deli is building up a regular clientele of foodies and homesick Italians delighted that the shop stocks food they miss from home.
The deli is very interesting and staff like Emily are well trained and very knowledgeable about the products, many from artisan producers.
For instance, she explained that the lemon olive oil that I mentioned one of my colleague raves about is made by crushing Sicilian lemons with the olives. The chilli oil is made by the same method.
It’d be a great place to pick up a gift for a food-loving friend – although it is a bit pricy – and they have beautiful Easter eggs on display at the moment as well.
Emily said that all the food is made on the premises, with chefs in the kitchen at 7am to start doing the prep.
She explained that customers can just pop in for a coffee and a cake at any time, including at busy lunchtimes.
There is a fast lunchtime menu on offer and they serve breakfast as well.
We had the place to ourselves when we visited on Sunday night but the whole Oasis area was pretty empty, presumably as it was the end of half term.
However, the restaurant still had a pleasant ambience, probably because it is semi-open to the Oasis walkway. Our seats were separated from it by a long line of plastic lavender plants in a wooden trough.
There is a lovely mural of the terracotta roofs of an Italian city on one wall and the colours are muted and relaxing. It feels modern and comfortable, rather than designed to within an inch of its life.
They could do with heavier tables, though, as I kept catching ours and it moved alarmingly.
We ordered drinks and settled down to dither over the menu.
As you’d expect, the wine list is full of excellent Italian choices and prices range from £3.95 to £6.50 a glass (some offered in medium or large sizes) and bottles are £13.95 to £36.
I opted for a medium glass of Moltepulciano D’Abruzzo (£4.25), which lived up to its description of classic, full bodied and rich.
Linda went for a bottle of Nastro Azzuro beer (£3.60) which is also on tap.
We could have started with antipasti dishes to share, from £11.95 to £18.95, or chosen from the range of small Italian plate snacks. The starter menu has prices ranging from £4.95 to £6.75.
These are mostly Italian classics such as bruschetta, pasta and bean soup or fried calamari.
There’s also seasonal offerings from the specials menu.
And if nothing really appeals, the kitchen will make anything you fancy if the ingredients are to hand, Emily said.
I went for the arancini di riso (£4.95), which are two balls of rice that have been flavoured and rolled in a crunchy breadcrumb topping, then fried.
They are a popular lunchtime staple in Italy.
It was certainly a big starter: both arancini were about the size of tennis balls.
One was flavoured with pesto and the other, a conical shape, had a ragu sauce flavour.
Both were nicely moist and very tasty, with good flavouring that didn’t overwhelm the rice.
They came with a good little pepolata red pepper sauce, which was smooth, fresh tasting and tangy.
Linda had the mozzarella dell’isola (£5.50), which is melting buffalo mozzarella, roasted peppers, sliced Parma ham and rocket.
The fresh mozzarella was tender and delicious and the accompaniments went beautifully with it. Linda has a love affair with rocket, so she was delighted to get a good mound of it.
Main courses include pasta dishes, fish and meat and prices range from £7.95 to £14.95.
I opted for a lamb shank dish from the specials menu (£15.95) and Linda had the risotto of the day, which was chicken and spinach (£9.95).
I asked the waitress if I needed a side dish and she said yes, so I ordered rosemary sauteed potatoes (£3).
They were surplus to requirements and only fairly interesting, as the rosemary flavour hadn’t developed fully.
The lamb was beautiful, falling off the bone and full of flavour, and it came on a generous bed of wonderful carrot and celeriac puree, plus the sauce the meat had been braised in.
Linda’s risotto was wonderfully wet and creamy and the tender spinach and little cubes of chicken went very well with it.
We had to try the puddings, so Linda had the blackberry torta di frutta, which was a little tart of amazingly crisp pastry filled with mascarpone cream and topped with the fruit, with a side serving of lovely vanilla ice cream (£5.50).
I went for the classic tiramisu (£4.95), a generous brick of the stuff which was up to scratch. However, neither dessert had the wow factor I anticipated.
We finished off with classy coffees.
Our bill came to a hefty £62 but you could try the fixed price menu instead, which is £9.95 for two courses plus £3.50 for pud.
Verdict: molto bene but molto money as well.
Carluccio’s, The Oasis, Meadowhall. Tel 251 6767. www.caluccios.com
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 8am to 11pm, Sunday 9am to 10pm.