The Olympic-like flames have been burning exterior San Carlo in Corn Avenue since 1996, which makes this Italian restaurant one of many longest-running in Bristol – fairly an achievement when many locations are flattening the shutters earlier than the primary 12 months’s accounts are filed.
And but regardless of its spectacular 23-year run and the actual fact it all the time seems to be busy, I not often hear folks – or, at the least, locals – speaking in regards to the place. When it first opened, it was populated by long-lunching, expense account-wielding bankers however now the banks are gone it’s nearly as if the restaurant is reserved for celebrations and vacationers.
However then I’m as responsible as the subsequent diner for not consuming there as a lot as I maybe ought to and I’ve had a rollercoaster relationship with San Carlo because it opened in 1996. My first evaluate, the week it opened, was removed from beneficial however within the intervening twenty years, I’ve been again a couple of occasions and had way more gratifying experiences.
At one level, and within the pursuits of accountability in these clear occasions, the San Carlo house owners even approached me to do some press for them, a short-lived dialog as I do know my limitations and there are already too many grizzled outdated journalists on the market attempting to be grinning PR folks.
However it’s arduous to not be impressed by the San Carlo backstory. It was began in Birmingham within the early 1990s by Sicilian-born Carlo Distefano.
Now 75, Distefano began out as a barber. He arrived in England in 1962 with £12 and a piece allow to take a job at a Leeds barber store.
The San Carlo group now has over 20 eating places within the UK and Center East and the final figures I noticed revealed an annual turnover of round £50m. Not dangerous for a enterprise began by a hairdresser who left his native Italy with a 3rd class practice ticket to be able to discover employment.
With its excessive ceiling, mirrored partitions, marble tables and blue lighting, the Bristol department of San Carlo has a bling-like wow issue. Shy and retiring it isn’t.
As with all branches, there are partitions of framed pictures exhibiting previous superstar friends – a formidable gallery of footballers, ex-footballers, soccer managers, ex-football managers, politicians, Tom Jones and, er, Katie Value.
Employees in crisp white shirts, pink skinny ties and lengthy black aprons are immaculate and well-groomed because the restaurant itself and so they stroll across the room with that acquainted, old-fashioned Italian swagger, a mixture of perspective and professionalism.
The menu at San Carlo is in depth, with 20 pasta dishes alone and simply as many pizza choices and meat or seafood important programs.
My pal kicked off with the traditional insalata Caprese (£7.95) – a cool and refreshing plate of avocado, beef tomato and mozzarella di buffalo with the pink, inexperienced and white parts representing the tricolour of the Italian flag.
I began with gamberoni Luciana (£10.50) – an outdated favorite comprising agency tiger prawns languishing in a creamy, spicy, rust-coloured tomato sauce spiked with chilli and garlic. I’ve been consuming that dish for 20 years and it fortunately by no means modifications.
Fish and seafood is one thing of a specialty at San Carlo, whether or not it’s a dish of ravioli full of salmon flambéed in vodka and pink peppercorns or a traditional lobster thermidor.
We each took the piscine and shellfish route for our important programs. From the specials, the grand-sounding ‘coda di rospo aurora’ (£19.95) – was a beneficiant plate of juicy monkfish fillets in a wealthy and strong pink peppercorn, cream and tomato sauce bolstered by a couple of prawns.
Spaghetti vongole e gamberoni (£15.40) arrived on the desk in a swan-shaped foil parcel, which was slit open to disclose plumes of seafood-and-garlic scented steam and a mountain of spaghetti, child clams and prawns in a garlicky tomato sauce. It was the essence of meals loved on the water’s edge in Italian fishing ports.
To complete, a heft slab of tiramisu (£6.30) wasn’t the overly candy dessert usually served up in Italian eating places, with a satisfying bitterness from the espresso and bitter edge from the mascarpone. Gentle and ethereal profiteroles (£5.95) drizzled with lashings of sizzling, darkish chocolate sauce have been unimprovably good.
As I paid up, I seemed across the packed room – each desk was taken by 8pm on a faculty night time – and will see households with youngsters feasting on pizzas and heaps of shellfish as extra diners arrived with big foil ‘21st’ birthday balloons to brighten a big desk on the again.
The environment was buzzing and crackling greater than any Bristol restaurant I may consider, and that’s exactly why San Carlo continues to be as busy at this time because it was 23 years in the past.
Sure, it’s brash and it’s bling and, sure, you’ll in all probability discover extra refined meals in among the metropolis’s cooler, newer unbiased Italian eating places, however on the subject of genuine Italian cooking in a room with a real wow issue and among the best atmospheres of any restaurant within the metropolis, San Carlo has the lot.
San Carlo, 44 Corn Avenue, Bristol, BS1 1HQ. Tel: 0117 9226586.
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