Bristol’s San Carlo restaurant is situated in Corn Street occupying a building with an impressive grand façade, very high ceilings and fine period features. It is certainly imposing enough to carry off the opulent décor – hanging baskets with trailing plants, large mirrors, balustrades, urns and polished brass and marble everywhere. Very chic.
The San Carlo group seems to have inexhaustible creativity when it comes to opening and running restaurants. Their flagship is the Cicchetti in London’s Piccadilly but they have branches in many major cities including the original restaurant in Birmingham. In Manchester their Cicchetti became the official Vogue eatery for the Vogue Fashion’s Night Out event where guest were wowed by chef consilere Aldo Zilli’s creation of the first ever edible stiletto.
We were in Bristol to see West Side Story at the Hippodrome and we chose the San Carlo because it has enormous curb appeal as well as a very attractive menu. Luckily we had booked a table because when we arrived for lunch on a Wednesday it was already quite full.
The San Carlo has a variety of menus, a main one, a special, as well as a lunch menu which includes smaller dishes for those who don’t want to eat a huge meal. I was pleased to find a good selection on each of them but was slightly confused by quite so much paperwork to negotiate.
There was no pressure to limit ourselves to just one of the menus so we picked our way through them, mixing and matching. As a starter I tried the pancake stuffed with prawns, scallops and diced halibut with a delicious sauce. My companion was served the beautifully presented and quite large Salmone Affumicato, smoked salmon with white shallots, capers and horseradish along with two dainty slices of brown bread.
In good Italian tradition we followed this with a small pasta dish each. My companion loved the Spaghetti Carbonara, slightly dry, just how he likes it and I took the Pasta Alla Norma, a dish from southern Italy, prepared with basil, garlic, aubergines topped with pecorino (ewe’s cheese).
I also love fish so I chose accordingly. The sea bass arrived as a good sized filet prepared with lime and chives. I ordered French beans as a side dish. My companion decided on the delicious sounding Suprema Di Pollo Principessa, a large and succulent pan-fried breast of chicken in a white wine, mushrooms and cream sauce on a bed of asparagus. He had a generous portion of sautéed potatoes to go with it.
Although we were already quite full, we couldn’t resist the idea of a genuine Italian desert. My companion was tempted by a raspberry panecotta made on the premises. It was beautifully presented, had a fine texture and was very tasty. I was in need of some refreshment, so took the large and colourful three flavoured sorbet. We finished our excellent meal with an espresso, the like of which you rarely find outside Italy.
As you would expect, there is an extensive wine list but we needed a clear head for the theatre so decided on just a glass each. I ordered a Merlot, my companion the house red, a Batasiolo Dolceto d’Alba, which was excellent and complimented the food nicely.
The service was impeccable and just as I like it, very attentive and elegant, but as in good Italian style, very personable. We were welcomed by manager Giuseppe, who, despite a full restaurant, still had time for a friendly chat with customers. In true Italian fashion his kissed my hand as he bad us farewell.
To me, food should never become overwhelmed by style and presentation. There are now far too many places advocating ‘fine dining’, but when your dish arrives you have to guess what it actually is. Aldo Zilli’s firm belief that food doesn’t have to be complicated to be good is in evidence here and it’s all the better for it.
The Bristol San Carlo is open all day, so one can eat pre- or post-theatre, matinee or evening. As it is no more than five minutes away from the Hippodrome or the Old Vic there is plenty of time to put in your last order or linger over a coffee. Highly recommended. Astrid Burchardt
San Carlo, 44 Corn St, Bristol, BS1 1HQ Tel. 0117 922 6586
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Open daily from 12.00 – 11.00pm