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Cicchetti by Carlo
Wirksworth, Derbyshire
01629 818842
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Out For Dinner At Cicchetti by Carlo In Wirksworth

Published On Sunday 14 Apr 2024 by Sticky Beak
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A message came in to Beak H.Q recently, one that had me and His Nibs looking over at each other in silence. One ‘Don Orlando’ had invited us to a ‘sit down’ at his Italian restaurant in Wirksworth and, given his ‘standing’ in the locale, was this an offer we couldn’t refuse ??!!! Oh come on, play along and get into the ‘God Father’ vibe…you gotta admit, it gives a bit of moodiness and drama to run-of-the-mill Beak Life! It’s been a while since we’ve visited Wirksworth, but even on a grey, spring evening it looked as beautiful as ever. We parked the jalopy in the marketplace (it only costs £1 after 6pm) and walked across to Cicchetti By Carlo, having been invited by Roland to sample the food they offer there.

You can’t fail to appreciate the slinky, stylish Italian vibe, which is apparent the moment you step over the threshold. Pale wood floors are matched by pale tables, whose matte black legs are matched by those on the cream leather mid-back chairs. Putty toned walls have monochrome prints hung on them, and lighting is provided by gorgeous Trumpet-shaped pendant lights that cast a warm, amber glow through the space. The focal point of the whole dining area, though, is the lovely old brick fireplace/stove and the black range that is insitu.

Carlo himself greeted us and showed us to a table for two in the window: perfect for people watching. Whilst Carlo went off to get the red wine for me and bottle of Peroni for His Nibs, a very smart, polite young lady came to offer water for the table to us and returned soon after with a large jug of iced, lemon slice-garnished water.

As well as the regular menu, there is a specials board to consider and I was seriously tempted by the Seafood Tagliatelle (£22.50). In the end I opted to have Creamy Garlic Mushrooms on Rustic Bread (£8.95) to start, followed by Prawn and Asparagus Risotto (£17.50); The man went for Arancini with Spicy Tomato Sauce (£9.95) and Homemade Lasagne with Side Salad (£14.50).

Receiving the order slip at the open kitchen on the upper level, Chef sprang straight into action, and mouth-watering aromas soon began to drift across the restaurant – my tummy duly noted their presence with an audible rumble! I’d also spied the Pizza menu, noting that Carlo offers a Prosciutto and Pineapple variety; expressing my happiness, I unwittingly opened a can of worms that culminated in me being out-voted as to whether fruit belongs on Pizza (it does, absolutely!). Cicchetti By Carlo does a cracking offer every Tuesday for Pizza, where every single one is a tenner – perfect for pizza-holics; His Nibs and I are already planning our return visit to sample these morsels.

Soon, our starters were being placed before us and, wowie, did they look good. A lot of thought goes into the presentation of each dish (as we were to find out more with subsequent courses), with the crockery chosen to maximise the food’s visual appeal.

After Carlo had ground fresh Black Pepper over, I cut into the slice of Rustic Bread and scooped up a hefty amount of the finely sliced white Button Mushrooms in their thick, creamy sauce, before popping the whole lot into my mouth. The cream and garlic hit my palate first, its silky texture clinging to my cheeks’ inside, followed by the crunchy crust of the bread. Mushrooms provided a mellow roundedness to this excellent starter, and I would eat this again and again, in a heartbeat.

His Nibs’ starter was equally beautiful, the quintet of “perfectly formed spheres of scrumminess” placed precisely apart and surrounded by a striking pool of Tomato sauce. Each Arancini ball was wonderfully crisp and golden on the outside, revealing a soft inner of rice and melted Cheese. Chef had gently seasoned the rice to tempt the taste buds, but it was the spicy sauce that took centre stage. This dish served up the perfect mix of spice and mellow, soft and crisp, making it a supremely enjoyable start to The Man Bird’s meal.

For his main course, His Nibs had gone for one of his favourite meals; when it’s done well, you simply cannot beat a homemade Lasagne, so the expectation was off the Richter scale – after all, if an Italian restaurant can’t do one of its nations’ best-loved dishes justice, where can?! The Lasagne was piping hot, with tendrils of steam billowing wildly into the air above our table… and it was still the same after 5 minutes! All the pasta is made fresh daily and cooked-to-order at Cicchetti By Carlo, nothing is pre-cooked or part-cooked. Like-wise, all their sauces are made fresh-to-order from the constituent ingredients as orders come in.

The Beef Ragu was packed with flavour and enriched by the sweetness of Tomato, partnered by a seductively creamy Bechamel sauce. Sheets of Lasagne had the perfect ‘bite’ still to them and provided bulk to this meal that would satisfy any appetite. This was comfort food at its best, with a hefty twist of classiness. Nestled at the side of the dish containing the Lasagne was a salad of Mixed Leaves, Cucumber and Cherry Tomatoes, and this provided not only a contrast, temperature-wise, to the pasta but also gave some welcome crunch. Carlo brought over vessels with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic in, so His Nibs could add as much or as little as he fancied. Freshly ground Black Pepper and Grated Parmesan were also offered to us both for our main courses.

Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables and April is the beginning of the UK season for it, so I was looking forward to biting into tender stalks and having that marvellously exuberant, gently grassy taste flood over my taste buds. I wasn’t disappointed, either! Chef had cooked the spears perfectly to retain some bite and to preserve the buttery notes this gorgeous veg has. Plump, juicy, fragrant Prawns swirled together with the Asparagus, creating a mesmerising harmony in the mouth. The Risotto rice was just al-dente and its silky starchiness had merged with the stock to produce a beautifully unctuous concoction that hugged my fork superbly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; sometimes it’s the simple combinations that make the most impact, as was the case here.

Carlo and his team checked we were enjoying our food at each course and were smiling happily when they spied our empty plates. When food is made with love and passion, the biggest compliment you can give is to finish every last scrap that has been served to you, and that’s just what The Man and I did! In all honesty, we didn’t need dessert to fill our tummies (they were already full), but having had two delectable courses, out gluttony got the better of us and we ordered Chocolate Cannoli (for Him) and Torte de la Nonna (for me).

Normally I would hands-down go for Tiramisu, especially when the quality of the previous food had been so good, but I’ve never had Torte de la Nonna before and I was eager to try it. Carlo said that the shortcrust pastry is filled with Crème Pâtissiere that is flavoured with Almonds and Pine Nuts, which sounded exquisite to me. Luckily the reality was every bit as good as I’d hoped and my mouth was brimming with wonderfully buttery pastry that melted instantly on my tongue. Rounded Vanilla hints of the Crème Pâtissiere felt like velvet to my palate, enhanced by the creamy tasting Pine nuts. Flakes of Almond decorated the surface of the Torte, bringing some welcome crunch and texture as well as the distinctive nutty flavour. The Torte’s pale beauty was showcased wonderfully by the dramatically dark platter on which it was served and bright berries added another flourish.

My Man had first had Cannoli in New York City’s ‘Little Italy’ district, when we embarked on a walking food tour there whilst on holiday. On that particular occasion he’d had the softer (and some would say more authentic) Ricotta variety, but this time his cocoaphilic side came out and he ordered the Chocolate Cannoli. Crunchy, sweet pastry curled around an impossibly decadent filling that was rich, indulgent and dense in texture, which meant that it clung to the insides of His Nibs’ mouth and lingered on his tongue.

We ended up having black coffees, not only to round things off ‘properly’, but also because neither of us wanted to leave Cicchetti By Carlo! Our evening had been excellent, from start to finish and it is certainly a venue we’ll return to again and again. Best of all, if you find yourself wandering around Wirksworth during the day, you can pop in for coffee and cakes, as it operates in a café/bistro style. Carlo is hoping to get permission for continental style pavement seating, bringing a bit of Italian café-culture to this popular town – how fabulous would that be?! 

It will come as no surprise when I say “Hot Wings happily given to this chic Wirksworth eaterie”. For more information and to book a table online, visit the website www.cicchettibycarlo.co.uk  or ring 01629 818842. Cicchetti By Carlo is closed on Mondays and opens Tuesday-Saturday 10am-Noon and then 5.30pm-late (last table booking is 8.30pm), and Sundays 10am-2pm only.

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