Antonio Carluccio comes to Hale - and he loves the train station

Antonio Carluccio

Antonio Carluccio - Credit: Archant

Janet Reeder discovers why the people of Hale have fallen a little bit in love with the master of pasta

Carluccio's, Hale

Carluccio's, Hale - Credit: Archant

Antonio Carluccio brought more than a little of La Vida Loca to Hale when he turned up for the opening of his new restaurant.

And nobody was more surprised than the master of pasta to discover just what an effect his arrival was having on the normally laidback village.

As I sat with him al fresco over a platter of antipasti and a glass of wine soaking up the pale autumn sunshine, people waved from their cars and rushed up to him for a photograph. One smart young man even gave him an affectionate kiss on the cheek after taking a selfie of them together. The buzz was decidedly continental.

‘I’m overwhelmed by the awareness of people. Did you see beforehand - a Bentley stopping and a gentlemen wants an autograph. It’s never happened before - ever,’ says the 77-year-old , clearly relishing all the attention.

Carluccio and Janet Reeder

Carluccio and Janet Reeder - Credit: Archant

‘I generally visit most of my new restaurants but this is something new.’

Hale Carluccio’s is in a prime position in the village on the former site of the American Bar opposite the railway station. It’s smart, chic and just the sort of relaxed dining space that the locals adore, plus Carluccio is all twinkly eyed, full of mischief. Like an uncle who indulges you with sweets and treats. I can see immediately why he’s such a hit.

While posing for pictures he gazes across at the station and tells me it evokes happy memories.

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‘My father was a stationmaster so this reminds me of growing up,’ he says glancing across at Hale’s charming station building.

‘There were six of us in the family and I don’t think any of us were born in the same station. We used to move around all the time.’

In fact it was this movement around Italy that gave him his insight into the regional nature of his country’s cooking.

Unlike the UK, Italians tend to cook dishes pertinent to their area, perfected across centuries, so in the poorer parts they eat pasta and vegetables, on the coastline it’s fish and in the interior part of the land it’s all about meat and game dishes.

Says Carluccio: ‘The chefs in Italy, they learn very well about their own region but not about the others but my father moved the family from the south to the north and when I grew up my mother was cooking all the recipes she encountered along the way so it was a very, very good thing.

‘I was always very interested in food. An early memory is of being five or six. My mother would send me from the flat above the station to see if the train would depart on time in order for her to put the pasta into the boiling water, so that when my father was coming up the pasta was perfect.

‘ Now when you grow up like this one day you remember it. It comes to yourself. And when I was in Vienna as a student I wanted to have the food of my mother and I started to cook. That was almost 60 years ago...’

And the rest,as they say, is history.

He opened his first Carluccio’s Caffe in London in 1999 and today the number of establishments bearing his name has risen to more than 80 and rising (after Hale they’ll open the first Carluccio’s in the USA).

But his close association with what has undeniably become a massive brand is what adds to its attraction. Plus, as he says, each is different.

‘It’s not just like a blueprint. Every place has a character and sometimes if it’s an old place we try to preserve a column, something to make it different.’ he explains.

‘And that’s important. To offer customers a variety and not believe that it is just a chain. Otherwise you are visiting the same place everywhere - unfortunately the Carluccio still remains the same name...’

Carluccio’s, Victoria Road, Hale

0161 929 9259