I popped along to the opening party at Carluccio’s in Union Square this week. It’s the first time I’ve been invited to an event like that and was a marvelous opportunity to experience how the other half lives. The world of fizzy top-ups and canapes being far out with my normal day.
The restaurant itself looks great. The food we sampled on the night was all excellent (the prawns wrapped in prosciutto and rosemary were awesome) and there’s also a well stocked, if expensive, deli on site selling fresh pasta, sauces, meat and cakes. While the deli is pricey the stock looks superb so although I wouldn’t go there every week I could imagine nipping in for something nice as an occasional treat.
I managed to grab a look at the normal restaurant menu and again it looked great. You can probably guess what’s on it but the prices and dishes all seemed solid with a few that stand out as something a bit different from the usual chain Italian menus. Pitched slightly higher than Zizzi and Prezzo across the walkway but hopefully they can actually cook pasta correctly unlike some of the other restaurants in Union Square. The option of a set menu is very welcome too.
While I was mingling with the good and the great (actually chatting to my friend from VisitScotland that I bumped into) I started thinking about the effect restaurants like this and the other chains in a centre like Union Square has on the independent restaurants in Aberdeen. If you go to Union Square on a Friday or Saturday night every place is absolutely heaving. I can understand why and I’m as guilty as anyone of falling into the convenience trap. I live in Banchory but still want to go through to Aberdeen occasionally for a trip to the cinema and a bit of dinner. Union Square makes that a piece of piss. I can even park at my work if I don’t fancy paying for the privilege.
How can local restaurants compete with that? How are they surviving? The best ones with a decent reputation will probably do OK but what about the solid ones that do decent local food for a good price? When I lived near Holburn Street we went to Pappagallo’s, a decent local Italian that served generous portions. It’s now closed. Is that the way all the solid, low and mid-range restaurants are going to go in the face of this never-ending invasion of national and international chains? I hope not.
I asked my friend what he thought about this and his answer was quite pragmatic. The chains exist, on the whole they do good work and bring visitors and jobs into the city. Which is a fair point. Though for every Zizzi’s, Wagamama or Carluccios there’s a Chiquitos…
I guess my final thought is that while Union Square is convenient and you can get some good food there – I’ll definitely be going back soon to try a full meal at Carluccios – it would be a terrible thing if we ONLY had Union Square and the national chains to eat in. Let’s give some love to our local, independent places too.