Lunch date or lunch break, this place has the food and the buzz we love

IF you're meeting someone for lunch, be it your mate or a date, sometimes you want it to feel a little bit special. A little more Italian Riviera than River Irwell. More Audrey Hepburn in Rome than Audrey Barlow in Weatherfield.

If that's the case, San Carlo should be on your lunch list. It's known for its celeb-studded evenings, but in the day, it has a buzzy style and low-key glamour that's perfect for a midweek meet-up. 

Service is fast and efficient (kind of essential when you've only an hour to spare). And the food is superb yet affordable. 

This isn't a splash-out, long, lavish lunch. (Though if you want that, they can certainly deliver. Steak and lobster with a bottle of Dom Perignon, anyone?)

2019 08 San Carlo Pasta Serving

Instead it's high-quality, fresh Italian food served fast by smartly dressed waiters to white linen tables. Chic, confident and in control. 

You might be in a hurry but the vibe here is timeless, which is frankly a relief in a city where food trends come and go as often as street art in the Northern Quarter. 

When we went recently we had the Tris di Pasta to share – three different types of pasta chosen by the head chef (£12.95 per person). We also ordered a Mixed Mediterranean Fish sharerfrom the specials menu featuring prawns, mussels, tuna and whitebait (£20.15 per person). 

This turned heads as it arrived, partly because of how good it smelled, and partly because these waiters know how to create a sense of spectacle when they sweep across the room, dishes held high.

2019 08 San Carlo Trio Of Pasta

And yet despite San Carlo's glamorous atmosphere, this is relatively simple food. It relies on the quality of the ingredients to make an impression. San Carlo has been prioritising seasonal produce since year dot because chefs with any sense know what a huge difference it makes to the taste.

San Carlo is an institution in Manchester, and that doesn't happen unless you consistently get it right. For a weekday lunch that feels special without a special occasion price tag, it delivers again and again.

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2019 08 San Carlo Fork Pasta