REVIEW: Carluccio's Caffé, Brighton.

I admit most of the Italian restaurants I have been to locally are pants. I wasn't expecting Carluccio's to be any different, just a little more expensive, so it's taken me a while to get down there for dinner although I have been in to purchase some of their fantastic biscuits and pastas from the shop area. From a design point of view they are bang on. The wrapping, type and packaging reel me in like a big fat flounder and I am helpless to resist their charms. Boy, oh boy are they pricey but I have yet to be disappointed with the quality of the products I've bought so far.

For dinner, I chose the handmade, wine braised venison tortelloni which were so good it was like a great big hug from Antonio Carluccio* himself. There were plenty on the plate, but I could have eaten the same twice over but I am a greedy gal. Firm pasta and rich filling, made very well to ensure the filling stayed moist but did not leak in the cooking. I liked that they simply served them with butter which is how I have them at home.

The fella had the saltimbocca, a translation of "jump in the mouth", which was a pork escalope wrapped in Parma ham and sage and cooked in white wine. The meat was unfortunately a touch overcooked and dry although the flavour was lovely. Traditionally, this is made with veal which is still trying to shake off its taboo in the UK so I guess they have switched to pork for the saleability. Shame because it is one of my favourite dishes and done well would be my death row meal of choice.

We ordered a cheese board and some lemon tartlets for dessert which were all good and the espressos came with a glass of water which is how it is supposed to be done. The staff were lovely and along with the red wine, made me leave with a rosy glow - a good sign of a good restaurant and the first time I have ever experienced it from a (gasp) chain establishment.

I own a couple of Carluccio's recipe books and make no mistake, he is a real Italian cook. He holds genuine, regional Italian cooking to his heart and will not compromise on tradition or ingredients. I like his approach and he reminds me a lot of some of my family, spending whole mornings rummaging around the mountain hills in Italy, hunting out some mushrooms.

*The big man is no longer a consultant for Carluccio's Caffés, apparently stepping down to concentrate on other projects but nice to see that his passion for regional Italian food is still at the heart of the restaurant chain.