IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Designer Outlet.

The clocks might only just have gone back but a gigantic tree already stands tall, the sparkly trimmings are up and people are taking selfies against a backdrop of giant wreaths. Call me Scrooge if you want, but I can’t get into the spirit just yet. Try me again in about six weeks. The last time I checked the big day itself was in December.

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But others are far more organised. They’re already making their lists and checking them twice. The bosses at the town’s most bustling shopping attraction have a job to do accommodate such folk, so I can forgive them for being a little premature with the festivities.

After mooching around the shops alongside these eager beavers late on a Saturday afternoon – getting some early ideas which will be long forgotten by the time last-minute panic sets in – my wife, our two teenagers and I were hungry. The weather outside was (ahem) frightful so we decided against venturing into town and opted for Carluccio’s – a chain we’d always fancied sampling but had never got round to doing so.

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Like many families, we don’t agree on an awful lot, but all of us think Italian food is ‘delizioso’. The restaurant is positioned right next to the entrance on Rodboure Road, so there’s the option of swerving the stores altogether if shopping’s not your thing. Carluccio’s has seating outside and in was about half-full when we wandered past at 6.30pm.

A quick scan of the menu board outside confirmed we would have some tricky decisions to make – always a good sign – so we made our way in.

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We were given a warm welcome and the service was friendly and efficient from the outset. We never felt rushed and the timing of the two courses we enjoyed was about right. The vibe was chilled and our fellow diners – a nice mix of couples and families – seemed as though they were enjoying themselves as much as we were.

In difficult times for restaurant chains, Carluccio’s is fighting an ongoing battle to avoid the fate of its one-time rival Jamie’s Italian as it celebrates its 20th year. Part of its survival plan – which will see a £10m overhaul of its 70 UK restaurants – is to offer more options outside the ‘rigidly Italian’ menu created by Antonio Carluccio.

Fish, steak and French wines now feature and there are seasonal dishes on offer too. The autumn variety – inspired by the founder’s passion for fungi foraging – is available for another week or so, before (yes, you’ve guessed it) Christmas takes centre stage.

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That’s not to say traditional favourites have fallen by the wayside and three of us went for pasta-based mains. The fillet steak at £27.95 is a bit beyond our budget, after all. There is value for money to be had, though, and the evening set menu offers two courses for £14.95 with the option of a third for £3 more.

My wife and I put Carluccio’s ‘minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour’ mantra to the test with admittedly fairly routine choices of lasagne and spaghetti carbonara.

Lasagne is my favourite dish bar none and I was keen to see what the ‘godfather of Italian gastronomy’ had created. I wasn’t disappointed. Although the serving was by no means huge, it was absolutely packed with slow-cooked beef and the béchamel sauce was gorgeous.

Our son went for Orecciette alla Luganica – impressing the waitress with his efforts in ordering the dish (I chickened out). He reported the pork sausage was deliciously spicy and devoured the small ear-shaped pasta – which originates from southern Italy – in no time.

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Always keen to be different, our daughter chose from the Secondi selection. Chicken Milanese is a breast in rosemary breadcrumbs, served with a healthy helping of mixed salad. She gave the mustard dressing a miss and, again, the clean plate told its own story.

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Her mild disappointment that pizza wasn’t on the menu was tempered by the presence of a giant profiterole among the desserts. That and a strawberry cheesecake coppa, topped with flaked almonds, rounded off a lovely meal in fairly spectacular fashion.

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The bill for two courses apiece and soft drinks all round came to £87.85.

It’s not the cheapest joint in town, especially with presents to buy in the near future – but scrimp on your great auntie’s gift to fit in a visit and you won’t regret it.

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Where: Carluccio’s, Unit 11/12, Swindon Designer Outlet, SN2 2DY

01793 480670

Open: Mon-Fri 9am-10pm, Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 9am-8pm

Our rating:

Food: 8/10

Service: 9/10

Ambience: 7/10

TripAdvisor rating: 4.5 stars

Parking: Yes, in the

Designer Outlet car parks

Disabled access: Yes