OK. I know I’m on a bit of a Carluccio’s roll here with two Carluccio posts in a row. I promise they don’t pay me. I almost decided not to write about tonight. But I took my camera just in case, and as soon as we sat down after a warm welcome with a glass of prosecco and I looked at the menu and music programme for the evening, I knew it was going to be too good not to write about.
I was in Spain when I got Carluccio’s e-newsletter and information about the evening. I emailed my friend Lesley; were she and Colin interested? She booked for us; I offered to drive. Wimbledon from Twickenham isn’t far – but it’s a nightmare by public transport. I’ve been to ‘opera a tavola’ – opera singing while you eat – before but not for many years; again, it was in an Italian restaurant. Which makes sense. No one loves opera like the Italians. A welcoming glass of prosecco with canapés plus three courses for £35 with live music seemed an offer too good to miss. The restaurant soon filled up as we sipped our prosecco and canapés were brought round.
There was one song with our aperitivo before the starter arrived: Homemade chilled tomato and cucumber soup with fresh basil leaves.
This was a nice, fresh start to the meal and was followed by four more songs before we were served our main courses. The music was provided by Opera d’Amici. Founded in 2001 by Hannah Kirk, this is a group of highly experienced singers from companies such as Covent Garden, English National Opera and D’Oyly Carte. They say they are a company of friends who come together to share their love and passion for what they do and perform in a variety of different venues and settings. Our singers for the evening were Hannah herself and Daniel Meades, accompanied on the piano by Peter Crockford. The programme was an eclectic mix of songs and arias from Verdi (Tosca and La Traviata) and Puccini (La Boheme); Bernstein (West Side Story) and Gershwin (Porgy and Bess); to lighter stuff from shows such as ‘Showboat’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Their voices were wonderful and it was exciting and a real pleasure to enjoy their singing in such a small and intimate setting (the Wimbledon Carluccio’s isn’t particularly large). They seemed to really be enjoying themselves and engaged in a good way with the audience – who were very appreciative of this musical treat. We three thought we might have preferred a little more opera but I guess they try to accommodate all musical tastes and also the setting calls for quite a number of lighter songs, I think.
Our main course was a delicious lamb dish: Roasted rack of lamb with herbs and extra virgin olive oil crust, served with chargrilled vegetables and couscous.
We were a little surprised the vegetables were cold but they tasted good and the couscous was a salad too, and also good. The lamb was particularly excellent – and hot! – cooked to perfection: pink inside and very tender; the flavours of the herb crust had permeated the meat beautifully. This was followed by another five songs before the dessert was brought: Carluccio’s own ‘gelati artigianali’ – vanilla and chocolate ice cream. It was lovely gelato and a nice – and very Italian! – way to finish the meal.
We then had the final five songs from Opera d’Amici; these were lighter songs on which to end. I was pulled to my feet by Daniel for him to sing ‘On the Street’ from My Fair Lady directly to me and dance a few steps. It was fun – no one has ever sung to me before! – but I did feel slightly embarrassed to be the almost centre of attention. Thank goodness it was too dark to see my blushes. They finished with ‘Champagne’ from Die Fledermaus and we were encouraged to lift our glasses and join in.
It was such a joyous way to finish: everyone singing along and happy. It was a fantastic end to what had been a great evening of wonderful music and lovely food. We three loved the whole event. If you’re interested in finding out about more of Carluccio’s opera evenings look at: www.carluccios.com/events.