Thursday, 22 April 2010

Sunday 18 April 2010: Villandry/Carluccio’s - Bicester Village, Oxon

For months, a planned trip to Bicester Village was keeping my shopping in check, as I promised myself that some initial self-restraint would be rewarded by the delights on (70% discounted) offer. It also posed some food opportunities, as my travelling companion (my mother) and I would have to find some decent nourishment from home.

Bicester Village does not have much choice on site. There is a pub nearby, which looked pretty ordinary (albeit pretty on the outside), as well as a Little Chef. Notwithstanding being Heston’d in the last few years (and a few pleasing surprises on the new menus, such as an emphasis on British produce), I am still far, far too embarrassed to set foot in a Little Chef.

So, Bicester Village itself on a Sunday evening would have to do.

In the evening, the small choice is whittled down as Pret a Manger and Starbucks both shut along with the shops. In any case, I boycott Starbucks and I’m fairly Pretted out at the moment. We were left with Villandry, and Carluccio’s.

Both of which should have been fairly reasonable.

Carluccio’s was warm and friendly, but my mother was very taken by the roast beef that Villandry offers as Plat du Jour on Sundays. When we got to Villandry, we were left standing around as the only waitress was completely absorbed with customers already seated. Eventually, as we were about to leave, she came over and said hello, but suggested that (post-9pm closing time notwithstanding - and this was only about 7.30) they were closing down for the evening. We also suspected that if any food was available, it would be extremely tired and dodgy.

So in the end, it was back to Carluccio’s.

I had high hopes. Although a chain, one still expects it to be a relatively high quality one. The menu seemed promising - there was plenty of choice.

My mother was “starving” and went for the lasanga tradizionale, which is weirdly made with lamb and beef, and focaccia served with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The focaccia came out in two enormous three inch high cubes, but the bread looked over yeasted and a bit weirdly spongy. The lasanga came out as a reasonably sized portion, although nothing particularly thrilling.

I followed my principle of ordering dishes I can’t easily do myself at home, and selected spaghetti alla vongole in bianco. This came out as an ENORMOUS plate of spaghetti with a few vongole here and there. It was also heavily coated in olive oil which made eating the spaghetti unamusingly messy and embarrassing. I was a bit annoyed, too, that there were very few vongole, that some shells were empty (with no sign of flesh elsewhere in the plate) and the odd shell was broken (I bit down on a fragment of shell and was lucky not to break a tooth). I valiantly managed about three quarters of what was there, but eating a lot of spaghetti with very little to taste other than oil and starch is quite tedious. I made my mother eat a bit of what was left, because I hate waste. Even she thought it was far too rich with oil.

I don’t foresee eating much pasta again in the near future.

As a post script, a little over 24 hours later, I spent the night vomiting. My mother was also affected, but to a vastly lesser extent. I can’t help but wonder whether there is any connection.

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