Since opening their doors in 1992, the San Carlo brand has gone from strength to strength.
The first San Carlo was based in Birmingham and it wasn’t until 2004 that Manchester was to welcome this successful eatery. And now twelve years later we seem to have taken it to another level as we have six sites within a ten mile radius, all just as good as each other.
Six sites all in one city?!? For a relatively small chain this is no small achievement.
But I’ve often wondered is it sustainable? I remember reading a quote from Restaurant owner, Carlo Distefano:
“What you eat in Sicily, you don’t eat in Milan. What you eat in Venice, you don’t eat in Rome. Our market it is huge – if I give you food from Puglia or from Venice, it is completely different.”
It perfectly explains how a luxury restaurant such as this can afford to open numerous branches close to one another, without having to diversify from being ‘Italian.’
So… which do you choose?! After numerous visits, I’ve realised that we are lucky enough to have a San Carlo suited for every occasion. Here are my recommendations:
Don’t fancy breakfast at home?
San Carlo Cicchetti
The first of the group to introduce tapas style dining, Cicchetti puts its own spin on the ‘small plate’ customs of Venetian cuisine and it’s a great place to start the day.
No matter how grey it is outside, peering into the big store front style windows of Cicchetti’s is enough to warm even the coldest of hearts. Signature San Carlo marble surfaces, a palette of yellow and white hues and an enchanting twirling of twigs and fairy lights is what you can expect to find when you walk through the heavy doors. Bright and airy by day, intimate and cosy by night.
Before you head off for a busy outing in the city, this is the best place to fuel up with coffee, eggs expertly cooked just the way you like it… and a pastry. Where there is breakfast, there must always be pastries.
House of Fraser, 98-116 Deansgate, Manchester
0161 839 2233
After shopping lunch stop
San Carlo Bottega
Just think you don’t even need to leave the shop to get to this one. Bottega lives on the second floor of Selfridges opposite the Arndale centre and just five minutes walk from Market street.
Slightly different in style to the others, Bottega has a slight edge. Well a duck-egg-blue-silver-service kind of edge. The crowds tend to move in and out quite quickly here, we all know shopping can be pretty hungry work.
Another small-plate menu concept, Bottega goes a step further than the previous resident, Aubain, offering a mix of Mediterranean flavours from Italy and Southern France.
If you’re in a rush, grab a seat on one of the plush leather bar stools and grab a quick bite, else stake out a booth by the mighty large floor to ceiling windows and rest those feet.
Selfridges, Exchange Square San Carlo L2, Manchester
0161 838 0540
Coffee, cake and a catch up
San Carlo Gran Café
Once you’re all done at Bottega, you could always pop down to Gran Café, an ideal place to meet friends for a natter and of course, a sweet treat.
The gelato here is made onsite, using traditional Italian methods and Italian ingredients. Not a fan of deluxe ice cream – don’t worry, Macarons are the other speciality to come out of this kitchen. Salted caramel is rumoured to be the managers macaron of choice, pistachio wins it for me.
They also offer afternoon tea here – definitely on my list to try.
Selfridges, Lower Ground Floor, Exchange Square, Manchester
0161 838 0571
When schmoozing for new business
San Carlo Fiorentina
For it’s first Cheshire venture Fiorentina took over the former ‘Players’ restaurant, a fine-dining establishment popular with celebrities, many of which live in the surrounding area. This was always going to do well. Very little was changed internally, apparently the brand traits are set to be introduced in the future.
Unlike the others, Fiorentina has a different feel to it that didn’t quite wow the critics when it opened. Most of the original Players features were kept. White table cloths, lots of wood, deep coloured leather booths – not quite the epitome of what we’re used to with San Carlo. Although I’m of the opinion that keeping to this low lit elite style works well here. It gets just as busy as the others, but it doesn’t seem to have the same background ‘noise’ level, making it ideal for a client get together.
As the name suggests, the menu has hints of Florence cuisine weaved in amongst the regulars. A robata grill was installed with the move in so it’s definitely worth trying one of the grill dishes.
Hale Barns, Hale Rd, Altrincham
0161 904 5043
The newest addition to Manchester, Fumo was designed to have its own unique identity. Similar in concept and style to Chichettis, Fumo introduces modern elements into its space. Split over two floors, this one has placed itself in the heart of the city. The stairs almost look like they aren’t even part of the restaurant as they sweep out and back into this very new, very shiny St. Peters Square tower block. The walls with illuminated glass panels are a stunning feature, giving this branch a less classical feel (bravo to Carroll Design for their fabulous work on the interiors).
Pledging themselves as the trendiest of the lot, the late lounge is a hotspot for young professionals with DJ’s taking resident at the weekend when Fumo truly comes alive. There’s also an outdoor seating terrace which I can imagine will be packed in the summer (when the tramlines are finally finished!).
Why are we moving date night here? well the dessert sharing platter is enough to move any meal here. A must order.
1 St Peters Square, Oxford Road, Manchester
0161 236 7344
For a celebration
Last but not least the original (Manchester) San Carlo. Always busy and a popular haunt for both National and International celebrities.
Since the refurbishment, this King Street corner plot can now hold 300 people and the private dining room has been a great addition, we had Mo’s 30th birthday dinner there. They have got some of the best ‘set’ menu options I have ever come across at a restaurant and I’ve been to few parties here now.
Why do we keep going back? Firstly, the ambience. It is electric. This is one of the few places I actually enjoy going to when it’s busy. The waiters glide swiftly from table to table, food and drink is constantly flowing up and down the restaurant and this is where it all began here in Manchester.
The food? It’s here where I realised even the simplest dishes can boast the sharpest flavours. The San Carlo brands ethos is that of ‘sourcing top quality ingredients’ and you can taste that in every dish. Well I certainly have in every dish I’ve tried!
42 King Street W, Manchester
0161 834 6226
So those are my recommendations, how would you decide?