Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
Published January 13th 2020
Review of Italian food for vegans
Italian food is famous for its creamy, melting cheese, and then there's the egg pasta. This can often rule out the authentic taste of Italy for vegans, but Carluccio's restaurants have launched a range of meat and dairy-free specials.
Like many chains, the new vegan menu - called Cucina Verde - coincides with Veganuary and is available until February 11, but gives the restaurant chance to add more vegan dishes to its a la carte menu in the long term too.
On the special menu is also regular dishes from its full vegan range, available all-year-round, such as Veganesca Spaghetti, a vegan take on the traditional Puttanesca; and the Veganese, the popular plant-based version of the Chicken Milanese.
With such a reliance on cheese in Italian food, Carluccio's has added Veganzola - a plant-based version of Gorgonzola - alongside other dishes including Gnocchi e Zucca and Panella di Ceci.
There's a range of options for starters from £3.75 for olives and breads to £6.50 for something more substantial like the Gnocchi e Zucca.
This has pan-fried gnocchi that comes with butternut squash and a kind of soup of spinach pesto along with crispy sage and pumpkin seeds. Pretty filling for a starter but delicious.
The Panella di Ceci are crispy chickpea fritters based on a Sicilian street food and have a lovely texture. They come with a mound of rocket salad and sweet poponcini peppers on top too. This was probably my favourite dish on the menu and cost £5.25.
Other choices were a Verdure Plate of marinated artichoke, balsamic onions and sweet and sour peppers with focaccia at £6.50; a Chestnut Hummus served alongside ciappe crispbread fresh from the in-house deli at £4.95 or tomato bruschetta for £5.95.
Moving on to the main courses, there are four pasta dishes, a salad of Avocado and Pearl Barley at £11.25 or the Veganese plant-based version of the Chicken Milanese (£12.50), which is a plant-based escalope in rosemary breadcrumbs with veg and even a chilli vegan mayonnaise.
From the pasta menu, there's the Veganesca Spaghetti at £10.25, mentioned earlier, that has garlic and herb breadcrumbs and toasted nuts for crunch on top of the spaghetti.
In the end, I opted for pasta and the Orecchiette Verde at £11.95. Named after "small ears", the small rounded pasta came in an artichoke sauce with courgette, soya beans and spring onions. The texture was fine but I found it a little too bland. It could have done with something to lift it.
My colleague chose the Tortelloni pasta filled with Veganzola that recreates the tangy flavour and consistency of the cheese in small pasta parcels.
The Tortelloni di Veganzola is priced at £11.95 and is surrounded by a spinach sauce. It's another of the heavier dishes ideal for bleak midwinter and gives a good alternative to Gorgonzola, flavour-wise.
The final option is Spinaci Tagliatelle Ragu that uses spinach tagliatelle and comes with a plant-based mince in a tomato ragu for £11.95.
The range of desserts is disappointing as there are only two, plus a sorbet, and both of those are practically the same.
There's a Torta ai Mandarino - a spiced Mandarin polenta cake with raspberry coulis - for £6.25, or a Pear and Polenta Cake, again served with raspberry coulis at £5.95.
If you don't like polenta, you're in trouble. Luckily, I don't mind it and the similar puddings were both enjoyable. I think the mandarin tart edged it for me with the sharp fruitiness cutting through the sweet cake. It had a lovely crumbly consistency too.
The vegan menu does overall have plenty of options - more savoury than sweet - and there's been plenty of thought put into finding suitable alternatives to replace classic ingredients of Italian food like Gorgonzola.
It's a step in the right direction and gives another dining out option for those who are vegan or trying it out for Veganuary.