“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you're hungry again” - George Miller
If I could only eat one cuisine for the rest of my life it would have to be Italian. In fact it would largely consist of the same two ingredients, tomato and mozzarella. Italian food is all about a few quality ingredients allowing the natural flavours to shine through.
One of my good friend’s is equally as enamoured with all things Italian and so we’re always on the hunt for an authentic Italian restaurant.
Last week I introduced her to San Carlo in Liverpool. We visited for a pit stop lunch during a shopping trip. What was supposed to be a quick re-fuel turned into a leisurely three course meal with a bottle of red.
San Carlo is part of a well-established chain of Italian restaurants across the UK and abroad. The San Carlo story began in Sicily where the chairman of the chain, Carlo Distefano, was born. Carlo arrived in Britain in 1962 aged 17, with nothing but £12 in his pocket and an entrepreneurial spirit. In 1992 he opened his first restaurant in Birmingham.
The family business has since grown into a £60 million empire which currently owns 20 restaurants. Despite this success, Carlo continues to work in the business seven days a week along with four of his children.
I was first introduced to the Liverpool restaurant a few years ago when I worked in a law firm in the city. I contacted the company to ask if they would support a charity fundraiser that I had been put in charge of. Without question Carlo’s son, Alessandro, kindly offered a meal for two at San Carlo Liverpool to be used in a raffle. I don’t think there are many restaurants that would be so generous, expecting nothing in return.
The Liverpool restaurant is housed in a former bank building on Castle Street, in the commercial district. Inside is contemporary, white walls with red and black leather furniture. Photographs of celebrity visitors hang on the walls along with striking artwork and mirrors. It certainly doesn’t look or feel like a chain restaurant.
The staff are typically Italian, very formal but super attentive. We were shown through to the back of the restaurant, passing a footballer or two on our way. The restaurant chain is particularly popular with celebrities including Rhianna, David Beckham and Zara Phillips.
We began with an obligatory Bellini each before choosing from the menu.
To start we both had ‘mozzarella in carrozza’, mozzarella in deep fried bread with garlic and pesto sauce.
For mains I had my usual, penne arrabbiata with fresh mozzarella.
My friend had ‘Risotto San Carlo’, risotto with wild mushrooms, cream and white wine with Parma ham.
Many of the ingredients that San Carlo use are flown in from markets across Italy twice a week to ensure authenticity. Last year celebrity chef Aldo Zilli, who is Executive Consultant Chef for the San Carlo Group, took delivery of £60,000 worth of rare white truffles to use in the restaurants, the most expensive delivery of the delicacy in the UK.
Although we were suitably stuffed, we couldn’t resist dessert. We chose a sharing plate meaning we could have a little taste of everything. It consisted of miniature cakes including pistachio mille-feuille, tortes and mousses. Every single one was delicious.
For Italians, food isn't just nourishment, it is life. So much so, Italy’s highest court recently ruled that stealing small amounts of food to stave off hunger is not a crime.
We weren’t sure that that argument would stand in an English court so we asked for our bill and finished our wine. By the time we left the shops had closed, our leisurely lunch had taken over the day and our shopping trip was a distant memory.
There is an old Italian saying, ‘a tavola non s’invecchia’ - ‘at the table, one does not grow old.’
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