Ladies Who Lunch
I’ve never been one for girly gatherings. It’s not that I am a tomboy in any sense, I love my manicures, facials and high heels, and I treasure time spent with my female friends, gossiping and putting the world to rights, but too much of an oestrogen assault and I can’t cope. At worst, the cackling, shrieking, competitiveness and bitching, the toe to head eye sweep, the thinly disguised hair, body, handbag or travel envy and the saccharine sweetness that so often accompanies larger groups of women make me uncomfortable. Then again the, at best, feminist sisterhood thing makes my skin crawl just as much. You won’t find me at hen dos, female only spa weekends or champagne and cupcake fiestas. no siree, nor will I join belly dancing groups to find my inner goddess. Much as I enjoy being a woman, I’ve never particularly defined myself by my gender. I’m a person first and foremost, the rest is just incidental and in many ways quite irrelevant, so I don’t appreciate being pigeonholed as a fully signed up member of the girl club. As for an inner goddess, who needs one?
Four of us women together is just about my limit, which is just as well, because that’s exactly what we were on our little outing to Carluccio’s in Putney last week, all of us normally too busy to do lunch, but for once the stars had conspired to make us all available for a meeting. Mind you, they gave us a comedy of errors first. One of us sat in her car, thinking she was far too early, not realising that her car clock had stopped and needed summoning with “where are you??” messages, another, me, went to entirely the wrong restaurant in the firm belief that she was in the right place, and the third, a Chelsea girl unfamiliar with the vagaries of South of the River, got lost on the way, leaving just one aimlessly sitting at a table for four, wondering what had happened to her compatriots. Eventually we all managed to gather, three of us flustered, slapping our foreheads and apologising profusely. Ah, the perils of being a Blonde!
Carluccio’s never disappoints. Sure it’s a chain restaurant, but as these go, the food here is pretty good and the vibe always buzzy. This one in Putney is particularly nice because of its prime position overlooking the Thames. Even on a dull day, the vista and unmistakably Mediterranean feel give it a holiday ambience.
My very favourite dish at Carluccio’s is the Penne Giardiniera, giant Pugliese penne with courgette, chilli and garlic, served with fried spinach balls and Italian cheese. It’s simply to die for and, even better, £0.50 of every one ordered goes to the charity Action Against Hunger. £1.7 million has been raised so far. Nice touch!
On this occasion, though, I wasn’t hungry enough for pasta, so, instead, I chose the Salad of Roasted Beetroot, Butternut Squash, Goat’s Cheese, Mixed Leaves, Crushed Walnuts and Pesto, served with Balsamic Dressing. As I was still hankering after the Fried Spinach Balls which normally come with the Giardiniera, a side portion of those little beauties was arranged especially for me. Another of my friends was tempted by the same, while the sole Brunette went for a Risotto Al Funghi, a Rich Mushroom Risotto finished with a hint of Chilli and Truffle Oil and the third Blonde picked the Spaghetti Carbonara of Eggs, Grana Padano Cheese, Smoky Granciale and lots of Black Pepper.
Our waiter was an energetic, skinny, pony-tailed Italian, a kinda joke-a-minute chap. Faintly aloof as I am, I normally find over familiarity and interruption by restaurant staff rather tedious, but this guy was actually entertaining, as well as helpful and super efficient, so he turned out to be an added bonus. Not only that, but, although he was unaware that I would be writing a blog post about the experience, after we’d finished, he asked all of us to evaluate our meal with points out of 10, which made my job very much easier.
The risotto and spaghetti eaters each gave 8/10 because they felt that their dishes, though tasty, were a little on the mushy side and not sufficiently al dente to merit full marks. The salad munchers did not quite agree with each other. One was impressed and gave 10/10 but I missed an acidic pickled kick to the slightly mealy beetroot as a counterbalance to the, admittedly, excellent creamy goat’s cheese and mildly sweet butternut squash, so my score was 8.5/10. The fabulously crunchy fried spinach balls, however, garnered 12/10 from all of us. We unanimously agreed that we’d come here again, just for the pleasure of these.
It was torture sitting right next to the appetising looking cake display, but we were good girls, keeping our eyes forward towards our coffee cups. Our funny man waiter took pity and, with a flourish, presented us with a plate of little cantucci, entirely for dipping purposes only and, therefore, virtually calorie free, you understand.
Our catch up was short and sweet but, as always, great fun. After paying our bill of £83.35 for our four lunches, side orders of broccolini, tomato bruschetta, olives and fried spinach balls plus soft drinks and three coffees, we each succeeded in finding our way back to our cars, this time thankfully without further mishaps.
Carluccio’s, 18 Brewhouse Lane, London SW15 2JQ. Tel. 020 8789 0591, www.carluccios.com
What I wore
Gap 1969 cropped skinny jeans, lacy white 3/4 bell sleeve Zara top with white vest top underneath, pale cream suede L.K.Bennett sling back pumps, beige and cream jacket (not shown), Hermes Birkin Etoupe, handpainted to order by artist Boyarde Messenger.
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