San Carlo’s cicchetti

January 31, 2018

A couple of weeks back I mentioned San Carlo’s switch to a cicchetti menu at their Leicester restaurant on Granby Street. Maybe some will have thought this a move downmarket, towards a more casual, cheap and cheerful approach.

Having been there last night, such fears are very much unfounded. San Carlo has long been one of Leicester’s smartest restaurants – it’s one of the few venues where the cutlery and glassware really shine, the marble table-tops and fittings and decorations glimmer under spotlights and the wall to wall mirrors create both a sense of space and an aura of a place “to see and be seen”.

None of that has changed. It avoids being  blingy though and you simply feel transported to somewhere nicer than the centre of Leicester in January.   The excellent quality of the food has not changed either, it’s just that rather than a starter and mains approach, you select from a wide ranging menu of small plate dishes to share.

On our visit this week there were some jaw-droppingly good dishes. First to arrive at table were some lightly chargrilled avocados  in a completely sublime vinaigrette of olive, capers, chilli and mustard. Also knocking our socks off was a beautifully presented pumpkin risotto – suffused with saffron and truffle and pouring invitingly out of a baked gourd, with a backdrop of a terrific parmesan crisp studded with pink peppercorns  and rosemary.  The flesh of the pumpkin was sweet and soft, and the risotto was faultless. Beatiful fresh spaghetti with clams also impressed.

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Pumpkin risotto

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Charred avocado

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Spaghetti with clams (spot the garlic!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other highlights included mash potato of such astounding richness as to render me speechless. Here was food that could only be conceived and created by people with a deep love of gastronomy  – spud whipped with huge amounts of butter, oil and truffle and lightly grilled with a parmesan crust. An utter dream.

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Mash – but not as we know it.

Cacciuco, a Tuscan fish stew baked and presented  under a carapace of pizza bread was a rustic dish of white fish, prawns, mussels and clams  done with elegance and flair while a monkisfh and prawn spiedini (skewer) was simply done with lemon juice and olive oil.  I say simply  – one of the features of the food was that every dish was dressed copiously and appropriately with fresh herbs, oil, cheese or whatever worked to embellish. Straightforward, but generous cooking. There were one or two simpler dishes  – fritto misto and fried mozzarella balls that registered  as good rather than great but overall this was consistently pleasing food.

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Unveiling the cacciuco

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Cassata

A quick mention for desert too – we shared a plate of delightful cassata, the Sicilian favourite with ricotta, ice-cream, candied fruits, chocolate and  other goodies.

A sparkling environment, run with friendly efficiency by manager Sergio and his team, serving ingredients of high quality cooked with care and respect – San Carlo offers much to the city centre scene.

 

  • We dined as guests of San Carlo’s but all views are my own. Other fine Italian restaurants are available  in the region, for example Sapori in Anstey which, fans of Italian fine dining may be interested to know is staging a special night on 27 February with Michelin-starred chef Vicenzo Gaurino of Spaltanna in Tuscany with live music and six course tasting menu. Details from Sapori

 

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2 Responses to “San Carlo’s cicchetti”

  1. Ed Stagg said

    Hi there,

    I’ve been reading your reviews on the email list for a while and always found them an enjoyable read. I’m a bit of a foodie and I’ll generally still go to restaurants that you’ve recommended with an open mind in the knowledge my tastes are probably slightly different to yours.

    I just wondered about the San Carlo review… is this a recent shift to paid meals? I’m not questioning your review, I just wondered how you manage to remain impartial if the meals are paid for?

    As I say, I respect the way you write and it’s no criticism necessarily.

    Ed

    Like

    • riponia said

      Hi Ed – thanks for getting in touch and I’m glad you’ve like what I write. I’m going to reply at some length because it’s quite a complex subject. I’ve been writing reviews for this blog and for newspapers (Metro and the Leicester Mercury) for around 12 years. In fact I think I was pretty much the first person to have a restaurant blog in Leicestershire – from a time when it was very different to the social media landscape today. I reviewed in the press before I had a blog – and it was important to me that I went anonymously and paid the bill at the end. I didn’t want to be part of the advertorial approach all too common in magazines and some local papers.

      After having been a reviewer for a few years you do start to get invited to events, to PR launches etc, and just as in any other area of journalism you start to forge links with the people you are covering. Amongst the bloggerati this is a real issue – there’s a sense that maybe some will do anything for a free meal, indeed there have been high profile cases of reviewers of high end places who start to make demands on places to get free meals before they will write about them – which is why some bloggers are meticulous about explaining at every event whether they have paid or not. I would say over the last 12 years 95 per cent of my reviews have been where I’ve paid the bill on the night – either simply myself or where I’ve been reviewing for a publication.

      Anyway, nowadays I’m not working. I’m 57, my freelance journalism contacts are dissipated, the Mercury has dispensed with my services and basically I live off my savings so I can’t eat out much. Nonetheless I like to write about the local restaurant scene and I have enough knowledge and contacts to still think my observations are worthwhile. So when I get invited by a restaurant’s PR operation I am inclined to give it serious consideration. I don’t go to everything – I’ve certainly turned down a few on the basis that I didn’t like the cut of their jib and and I didn’t want to be in the position of taking hospitality and then trashing them. In other words, I accept invitations to places I think I will like and I generally do.

      I felt with San Carlo I’d make a declaration because I’d given them a plug the week before so people might think I’d been invited anyway – and just to be absolutely clear – you say this was a “paid meal”, I was not paid but I did not pay for the food. In terms of how I’d keep my impartiality – I can only say that I think I’ve earned some respect over the past 12 years and people know that I’m genuine. As a fairly elderly chap I’ve nothing really to prove, I’ve no real need to keep onside with PR people – sometimes I think that actually stands in my favour with them. I like to enthuse about good places – I take no pleasure in criticising bad places (unlike some critics) and try and avoid them anyway. If I have something substandard in a good place I have no problem in saying so.

      Over the years I’ve got to know chefs and restaurateurs personally. In a small scene like Leicester that’s inevitable. I like to think the people I’ve made friends with are the businesses I admire and respect. Hence there’s a bit of a circle that goes on – I go to a place , I like it, I write nice things about it, I go back, I get to know the people, they invite me to a new opening whatever, I like it and write nice things again. I do however value the notion that they value my good opinion – and that means they don’t want my flattery, they want me to tell they my true opinion.

      Right, I think that’s enough. I ‘d just add that it’s good to be sceptical about people like me

      Like

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