Jonathan Schofield bemoans the typically sorry offering from Network Rail at Piccadilly Station

This is the opening paragraph for Antonio Carluccio on Wikipedia.

‘Antonio Carluccio, OBE, OMRI, 19 April 1937 – 8 November 2017) was an Italian chef, restaurateur and food expert, based in London. He was called "the godfather of Italian gastronomy", with a career of more than 50 years. He is perhaps best remembered for his television appearances, including his partnership with fellow Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo.’

Nowhere does it say there is presently a debased chain of restaurants operating in his name that would make the illustrious chef spin in his grave. Nor do I recall any rule anywhere saying British stations must have terrible and formulaic catering – aside from St Pancras in London where champagne and oysters come as standard. 

The owners can’t be arsed thinking about their customers and serve food chosen by accountants for the maximum return

The Carluccio’s chain is owned by the Boparan group who also own Harry Ramsdens, Bernard Matthews, Giraffe restaurants, the 2 Sisters poultry farms and sundry others.

This includes the Carluccio’s in Manchester Piccadilly which is a disaster food-wise. As a regular user of Manchester Piccadilly Station it’s a convenient place to meet people and to grab something to eat. I’ve dined and snacked there because I was in a rush and wanted to sit at a proper table rather than chow down at Pret or some such.  

There’s no real reason to review the food in detail because it’s all been rubbish aside from a passable mushroom soup at £6.95. 

2024 02 13 Carluccios Linguine
Flabby linguine Image: Confidentials

Briefly, and with a random selection, the linguine (£17.95) was dry and oddly taste-free with flabby seafood, the two fillets of sea bass (£18.95 - main image above) were as dead as any dead fish can be, over cooked with the consistency of half-dunked biscuit accompanied by a tomato relish carrying a rancid Dolmio flavour. The calamari (£8.95) were so dry they should have been put in a Walkers’ bag and called fishy crisps or simply used to play hoopla.

Meanwhile young Luke Littler could have used the fries (£4.50) as darts and easily won a world title. The porridge breakfast (£5.95) displayed a big fail: there was no salt in the mix.

It's an odd thing this chain, middle-of-the-road dining especially when it bears the prestigious name of Signore Carluccio. It’s flattering to deceive. A false flag. You go in expecting minimum standards of food quality but it never delivers, if dishes aren’t over cooked they are invariably dry. 

13 02 2024 Carluccios Piccadilly Station
Hoopla calamari fritti Image: Confidentials

This is a general problem in British chain dining. Average restaurants charging prices as high as Carluccio’s feel lacklustre and present a sorry face to tourists and locals alike. It’s as though the owners in these restaurants owned, in this instance, by the Boparan group can’t be arsed thinking about their customers and serve food chosen by accountants for the maximum return. All restaurants need to strive for profit, of course, but Carluccio’s is letting the paying public down and rubbishing the good name of Antonio Carluccio. Italians must be appalled by the cuisine type the restaurant purports to serve.

This is not to knock the staff who are very pleasant.

So why keep going? 

Well, the surroundings are decent and out of the window there’s a cracking view of London Road Firestation from 1906 with all its reliefs, statues and symbolism. It’s ok for a drink too. 

Ultimately, though, it's convenient. We've a captive audience. 

2024 02 13 Carluccios View
View of the London Road Firestation's fancy bits Image: Confidentials

With its crummy food offering Piccadilly Station is a sort of metaphor for a failing rail system. 

TGI Friday’s has closed, as has the bar opposite Carluccio’s. There’s a low grade Japanese chain, the Mill pub for the fighting crowd and then it’s crappy chain coffee shops. Within Carluccio’s the disabled and the ladies’ toilets are out of order and largely have been since Covid. 

The good news is that there is good food nearby. Madre, Pollen and Beeswing are four minutes away in Kampus. Excellent Chinese restaurant Home is in the Village. Bundobust is up the road and Ducie Street Warehouse round the corner. The Piccadilly Tap on Piccadilly Station Approach is excellent for beers.

Kampus is instructive. 

It was developed by Manchester firm Capital & Centric and the directors made it policy from the start that the food and drink had to be interesting and independent. Network Rail's management and shareholders clearly find that too challenging. As long as they can get a chain franchisee in Piccadilly Station those private shareholders in a publicly funded company are happy. They don't care about doing their best they only care about filling the place with average drossy outlets on long covenants.  

Note to self: set off earlier when catching a train. 

The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.

If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.

Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?

  • Food 3/10

    Porridge 4, calamari 3, sea bass 2, linguine 4, mushroon soup 5

  • Service 3/5

  • Ambience 3/5