Cheshire Life Luncheon - San Carlo, Manchester

Summer Truffle and Lobster Risotto

Summer Truffle and Lobster Risotto - Credit: Archant

Cheshire Life guests enjoyed a great lunch at San Carlo’s flagship Manchester restaurant – and understood why the chain just keeps on growing

The Management of San Carlo, Manchester

The Management of San Carlo, Manchester - Credit: Archant

Ten years ago, I confess, I didn’t see it coming. A new Italian restaurant had opened in a large and ‘difficult’ space in Manchester’s King Street West which had seen two national pizza chains come and go. So the new venture had branches in Birmingham, Bristol and Leicester. So what. ‘Oh no, not another one,’ I wrote at the time...

I eat those words every time I eat in one of San Carlo’s ever-growing group of restaurants, which is pretty often. It is 14 strong at the moment and soon to open a fifth Manchester operation in remodelled St Peter’s Square and, the help of celebrity chef Aldo Zilli, on board as a consultant, a second London branch of Cicchetti in Covent Garden. Any way you look at it, the business is a phenomenal success.

It was in Birmingham in 1992 that Carlo Distefano opened the first San Carlo restaurant - but the group’s heart and soul has always been in Manchester. According to Carlo’s son Marcello, now the group’s managing director, he chose to start in Birmingham so as not to compete with his Mancunian friends and because ‘there was nothing else there’. The unveiling of the brand in Manchester a decade ago, confident that the formula had been perfected, sparked an incredible and ongoing success story.

Marcello and the irrepressible Signor Zilli were the hosts as the welcoming prosecco was poured for guests at Cheshire Life’s August luncheon in at San Carlo’s original Manchester restaurant. As ever the place was buzzing with a clientele that cannot get enough of its winning combination of first class ingredients, authentic Italian cooking, vibrant ambience and service that’s seldom less than exuberant. San Carlo has always been a venue in which to be seen, and numerous photographs of celebrities from Rihanna to Michael Heseltine and of course Manchester’s international coterie of Premier League footballers - and their managers - bear witness to that.

Amelia Fraser, Sophie Parry, Aldo Zilli and Chloe Moss

Amelia Fraser, Sophie Parry, Aldo Zilli and Chloe Moss - Credit: Archant

Guests assembled in the restaurant’s clubby private dining room boasting a huge, colourful view of Florence. Prosecco and nibbles of grissini, olives and excellent focaccia were served before we took our seats in a snug corner of the main restaurant which was doing its usual roaring Friday lunchtime trade. A short interlude of typical Aldo Zilli showmanship - pasta making as a unique stand-up routine - preceded the first course. The seasonal seafood salad of plump, delicious prawns, perfectly cooked squid, clams and Signor Zilli’s home-made spaghetti with a zingy Sicilian lemon dressing, showcased San Carlo’s careful selection of tip-top ingredients.

Another example of culinary magic from head chef Jason Annette, who shares the title with Biagio Stepane, followed: Summer truffle and lobster risotto combining succulent, meaty lobster tail with wonderfully subtle gamey flavours and creamy just-so rice. The luncheon’s white wine, Pinot Grigio Margherita 2013 was an excellent partner for both opening dishes.

Course three brought the best saltimbocca alla Romana I’ve had since enjoying this classic dish on its home ground at a restaurant in the Eternal City’s Campo de’ Fiori. The tender escalopes of veal, topped with salty prosciutto and aromatic sage and cooked in wine, were not only delicious but evoked memories of a fantastic day. The red wine choice, Pighin Merlot 2011, soft and earthy with notes of cherry, matched very well.

The dessert platter finale, featuring an array of delicious Italian pastries, was illustrative of the way San Carlo does things. When the group opened its Farmacia del Dolce in the lower ground floor of Selfridge’s Manchester store - the fourth city centre venture - it hired four highly rated Italian patisserie chefs to make the cakes and the ice cream. Cheshire Life guests can vouch for their expert handiwork.

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To begin

Seasonal seafood salad with Sicilian lemon dressing

Pinot Grigio Margherita 2013, Alto Adige, Italy

Summer truffle and lobster risotto

To continue

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Pighin Merlot 2011, Friuli, Italy

To finish

Dessert platter with home made ice cream