Being handed a glass of prosecco on arrival never puts you in a bad mood, so the evening started pretty well, with some Ruggeri Santo Stefano Prosecco.
The antipasti selection was a real step up from the standard menu at Carluccio's, with the usual suspects of olives and salami joined by a crispy and well-flavoured salt cod fishcake and a red rice salad – a nod to the sea-trading past of Venice.
With the antipasti we were offered a glass of Bertani Soave Sereole. I loved the dry minerality that dominated when drunk on its own. With the food, however, more sweet fruit emerged, enhanced by a juicy acidity.
The main course of spezzatino di manzo, a slow-cooked beef stew with some Venetian spicing, was the kind of homely-looking dish that you could happily dish up at home. But I would also love to see it on the menu here other than for this special dinner.
In the picture it may look like this was served with a side order of scrambled egg, but no, it is that con trick perpetuated on the UK restaurant-going public: wet polenta. Quite how restaurants continue to get away with serving up this tasteless pap – and charging money for it – is one of life's enduring mysteries.
The wine served with this course was a perfectly pleasant Sospiro Valpolicella Ripasso. Plenty of bright cherry-tinged fruit, softly structured but with noticeable acidity. Sarah, who kept me company on the evening, is not generally a red wine drinker, but decided she could drink this – despite what she termed the “dog end” finish (presumably in a good way). I would rather have had this wine with my antipasti and moved onto something more mellow and savoury with the long-cooked spezzatino.
Sadly, the pudding was not a highlight. Crema fritta sounds odd and indeed it is: a kind of lemon-flavoured Findus crispy pancake. We also suspected that more polenta was involved. The wine served with it, however, was a real treat.
Anselmi's I Capitelli is made by the passito method, where grapes are left to shrivel and concentrate before being pressed to make into wine. This gives extra depth, but still with deliciously light, tinned cling peach flavours. More than adequate as a pudding instead of the crema fritta.
Overall the food was tasty and well-prepared and the wines a good reflection of the region. If this is a sign of where Carluccio's is heading, great. I'd love to see some of these things on their menus all the time – just hold the crispy pancake.
Carluccio's festival of Veneto wine runs until 26th July. Wine dinners cost £35 per person and there are a series of tastings at £10 per person. More details at: www.carluccios.com.