Sarah Cotterill visits Flying Pizza following its facelift

On the 24th May 2024, Roundhay's San Carlo Flying Pizza opened its doors following a spectacular refurbishment. And with over eight hundred bookings in the first two days, this Italian institution proves it’s still as popular as ever. 

Simon Nabarro has been a customer at Flying Pizza since it opened in 1974.  “My father was the agent for the Landlord and rented one unit to one of San Carlo’s predecessors,” he said. At the time, the Street Lane site, with its flat brick roof and wide forecourt, was a petrol station. “When the business went into administration, I was the landlord's agent and negotiated the deal with San Carlo to take over the lease.”

2024 05 31 San Carlo Leeds Refurb Exterior
Outside San Carlo Flying Pizza Image: Confidentials

He now has fond memories of the Rolls and Mercedes parked outside, as their owners dined at the best seats in the house. “In its heyday it was unrivalled. Businessmen would drive in from town and spend £3000 on lunch and a bottle of wine.” If you parked in a regular’s spot, the Waiters would kindly ask you to move your car. 

“It has always been a great venue, particularly in the days of Adriano when it was the most popular restaurant in Leeds…A girl at the door would take your name,” with a queue of at least thirty weaving onto the pavement. “Table hopping was the thing to do at the Flying Pizza…Tuesdays and Sundays were the days to be seen.” 

Today, bright red photo frames line the stairwell, depicting the glittering mix of both regional and international celebrities who have graced the family’s empire of establishments over the years. Alongside the cast of Emmerdale Farm filmed down the road, you’ll catch sight of Sylvester Stallone flexing his biceps, a fresh-faced Noel Gallagher shaking hands with the ChairmaN, Kelly Brook posing with staff on the front porch.

2024 05 31 San Carlo Leeds Refurb Interior
Inside San Carlo Flying Pizza Image: Confidentials

Indeed, the revival retains a touch of class, but the group are keen to insist casual diners are very much welcome too. You can just as easily enjoy an eight-ounce fillet steak wrapped in Parma ham with a black truffle sauce, or a Margherita pizza and a glass of Coca-Cola.  

“San Carlo is such an iconic restaurant within the local community, it was only right we give it the revamp it deserved,” Marcello Distefano, Carlo’s son and CEO remarked. “We have such a fiercely loyal customer base within the area and beyond, so the aim of our refurbishment is to ensure we maintain our status as Leeds’ most renowned Italian restaurant as we cater to locals and those who travel from afar to dine with us.” 

And it’s a destination worth racing for. Head of Property and Design, Ian Garraway’s interiors  give a nod to the Italian Grand Prix, with rich mahogany panelling - the tan leather seating of a vintage Ferrari or Venetian water taxi. The senses are caressed with a heady mix of styles. Art deco glamour meets Italian rationalism. The geometric shapes of Portaluppi architecture played out on a mid-century stage. Burnished mirror tiles, gold leaf ceilings, and retro 1970’s wallpaper.

2024 05 31 San Carlo Leeds Refurb Interior 2
Inside San Carlo Flying Pizza Image: Confidentials

Smiling Servers in red ties with pocket squares to match the upholstery. Cascading Murano glass chandeliers by Sogni Di Cristallo dapple shafts of light onto crisp white tablecloths. A colourful curation of contemporary artwork and painterly ceramics. 

Terrazzo flooring takes you to the villas of Lake Como, whilst twisted olive trees in oversized terracotta pots, bowing palm leaves and bouquets of fresh florals feel more Provincial. There’s a hint of British heritage and French Brasserie. Both the Roman statuesque and the Greek Goddess. A curling clamshell of crustaceans nestled in chunks of ice evokes Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, with cubist murals from L.A based artist Jessalyn Brooks further coveting the female figure. Coiled tentacles of a pewter octopus houses a bowl of bright yellow lemons. 

2024 05 31 San Carlo Leeds Refurb Interior 3
Inside San Carlo Flying Pizza Image: Confidentials

The kitchen has benefitted from a facelift too. They’ve installed a brand new Josper charcoal grill, and not one, but three pizza ovens. The chefs, hailing from across the Mediterranean, are now kitted out with the equipment their fine food deserves. The menu strikes the balance between the classics and the fashionable. Hand shaped knots of mozzarella bob in cream, delicate cured meats, pillowy focaccia blotting branded greaseproof paper. The warmth of nostalgia in simple plates of Dover Sole with grilled asparagus- half a lemon tied up in muslin to season. Slabs of meringue cake with strawberries. 

The chicken livers and kievs bursting with garlic butter have a special place in Mr Nabarro’s heart. “I have rarely had a poor meal …The food is of a standard today as it was the first day of trading. The restaurant is a phenomenon to have stood the test of time.”

Marcello Distefano concurs. “We hope the Flying Pizza will be around for another fifty years. We might not be here, but if not hopefully someone else with continue to retain its legacy.” 

Felicitazioni San Carlo Group, here’s to the next half century! 

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