What to order at this eternally popular Italian restaurant

Manchester is certainly not short of Italian restaurants. In fact there can’t be many cities or towns in the UK without one. But obviously they can range wildly in quality from your bog standard spag bol place to the kind of typical ristorante you’d stumble across on every corner in Rome, Florence or Venice.

waiting staff welcome guests and whisk over food, and pour wine like some kind of coordinated dance number

San Carlo is arguably Manchester’s most well known Italian restaurant and their flagship venue has been a bustling hub since it first opened in the 1990’s. Thanks to its success, they have since opened several more branches of San Carlo (and sister brands Cicchetti and Fumo) across the country and beyond. They now even occupy the rooftop restaurant on top of Selfridges in London. But it isn’t easy to pinpoint the exact reasons for its success. 

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San Carlo's flagship restaurant on King Street

Firstly, it helps that San Carlo is owned by a devoted hands-on family, rather than managed by a firm of grey suited accountants. Company chairman Carlo Distefano came to the UK from Sicily in 1962 with £12 in his pocket and a hardy work ethic that helped the business grow to encompass 900 current staff members.

The dedication of that team is definitely one of the reasons San Carlo is so popular today. Does anyone take the role of hospitality quite as seriously as the Italians? San Carlo waiting staff welcome guests and whisk over food, and pour wine like some kind of coordinated dance number loved by everyone from regular customers to the many famous faces who drop in from time to time – some of the framed photographs that line the walls of San Carlo will make your jaw drop.

It’s a great place to sit and people watch, managing the line between a comfortable, relaxing space to eat and somewhere you feel is a bit of a treat, thanks to the mixture of table linen and an abundance of shiny white marble. 

But all of this wouldn’t make a restaurant visit worthwhile without good food – and that, of course, starts with great seasonal ingredients, many of which are delivered from Italy every week.

We went over recently to try and pick out a couple of the dishes we’d highly recommend - ones that have made us happy time after time.

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Burrata Pugliese e melanzane

To start, you can’t really go wrong with Burrata Pugliese e melanzane (£9.50) specially imported from Puglia with aubergines marinated in garlic, chilli and mint. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese you could describe as a ‘pimped up’ mozzarella with added cream. It has a kind of outer shell of solid mozzarella, but bursts open to reveal an unusually soft, creamy textured interior which marries perfectly with other typically Italian flavours such as tangy sweet tomatoes, aromatic extra virgin olive oil and fresh, aromatic basil.

In this simple, vegetarian starter, San Carlo marry their Puglian burrata with chargrilled and marinated slices of aubergine, a handful of fresh rocket leaves and a little black olive tapenade. It’s fresh, light, delicious and a little bit luxurious.

2018 12 14 San Carlo Tagliolini Lobster 1
Tagliolini lobster

Perhaps though not quite as much as our favourite San Carlo main course – which is their signature pasta dish, tagliolini lobster (£23.50). With a generous pile of pasta artfully spilling out of a half lobster shell, this dish is impressive even before the first spiralled forkful has been raised to awaiting lips.

Taglioni are long thin strips of pasta, flatter than spaghetti, making it perfect for clinging onto the delicious sauce made from lobster meat, brandy, tomato, peas and a touch of cream.

The Italians have a notoriously sweet tooth. If you have any room for dessert, bear in mind that underneath San Carlo, there is a network of prep kitchens, where a team of talented pastry chefs is busy churning fresh gelato, piping meringues and glazing beautiful cakes and gateaux – but that is a story in itself for another day….

San Carlo, 40-42 King Street West, M3 2WY