San Carlo, Leicester

September 24, 2015

Here’s my recent Leicester Mercury review of San Carlo.

San Carlo
38 Granby Street
Leicester
LE1 1DE

0116 251 9332
Open – Mon to Sun 12pm-11pm

I’ll say straight away that I think every city should have a restaurant like San Carlo. A place where the napery is blinding white, the glasses, mirrors and cutlery shine, the waiters are smart and there is a cheerful buzz coming from both the clientele and the open kitchen. It’s the kind of place that lawyers in American films will go for important lunches, the kind of place you take someone to impress.

Some will probably dislike it for those very reasons, swearing by their unpretentious neighbourhood place. But it’s horses for courses and to be frank, we’re not overwhelmed with this variety of sophistication in Leicester. So I had a good feeling walking through the doors on a busy Friday night, to be greeted with a cheery “Buona sera” by a cordon of avuncular Italian men in suits.

The last time I was there it was to meet Aldo Zili, the celebrity chef who has sold off his restaurants and acts now as consigliere to the still privately-owned San Carlo groupa trusted adviser dispensing disinterested guidance, with occasional visits to rally the troops in the kitchen with a bit of stardust and enthusiasm. That visit featured some stellar food, demonstrating what can be great about Italian food done simply and with great ingredients.

Would these qualities still be on show on a regular Friday night? They certainly were evident in our complementary crostini, spread with a creamy anchovy paste delivering a hefty punch of salty fishiness. Even more so in an outstanding starter of marinata di verdure – aubergine, green pepper and courgette thinly sliced, briefly grilled and marinated in fresh mint, extra virgin oil, garlic and chilli. It brought out the flavours of the vegetables beautifully and with some first-rate buffalo mozzarella and well-dressed leaves it was a delight. Another starter of Faggotini San Carlo featured lovely little money-bag parcels of pasta with a light ham filling and a creamy wild mushroom sauce. Not cutting-edge innovation, but none the worse for that.

I’ve heard comments from people who find the service at San Carlo to be somehow arrogant and unhelpful. And yes there is air of “we know best”, but then they probably do and I find it quite a pleasant change to be served by experienced older people who have spent their lives in restaurants rather than keen but gauche students.

More good cooking was on show with a main course of tagliolini aragosta, a suitably bling dish for the surroundings of a half lobster adorning a mound of thin pasta mixed with a lobster claw meat, fresh peas, cherry tomatoes, finished with brandy and cream. Grilled hake was simpler but perfectly done, with a few fresh herbs, some crunchy, thinly sliced sautéed potatoes and a light, buttery sauce. The dish need some extra vegetables, which does start to push the bill up, but the wonderfully crunchy French beans doused in butter were so good I would not have wanted to miss them. The wine list is, obviously Italian, and our bottle of Soave was crisp, dry and elegant – perfect for our fish.

A cheese board was ridiculously huge – including large chunks of good but not exceptional gorgonzola, tallegio and pecorino that no-one could comfortably finish. Smaller hits of something more interesting would have been preferable. Torta sette velli (the Sicilian “seven veils cake”) was rich and decadent, alternating layers of chocolate mousse, sponge and hazelnut cream to great effect

The only real downside of our night was the being seated next to a table of three young women who stared at the phones all night, barely speaking, hardly touching their food and generally doing their best to suck the atmosphere out of the place. But that’s my problem and hardly San Carlo’s fault – the restaurant delivered some fine food in an otherwise lively, smart and enjoyable setting.

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