When I were in my late teens some friends of mine had a t-shirt made that read ‘there’s only one Simon Carlo’, a wonderful present that fed my ego successfully until we found out that Birmingham had two us, with the other being my cousin. I didn’t want the t-shirt after that, especially when he turned out to be far nicer than I ever will be. Still, there can’t be that many of us Carlos traipsing around the city, stealing women and breaking hearts, and besides, I bloody love being a Carlo; it’s part of what defines me, the surname that has become my nickname, that has become the only bit that people ever remember about me. I’m even willing to share my surname with a certain Italian restaurant, just as long as they keep it classy in return.
My visits to San Carlo have not been nearly frequent enough. It was one of the first places I ever took a girl on a date to, me thinking that the waiters would find my ‘Mr S Carlo’ debit card as funny as I. They don’t – they only care for flexing giant phallic pepper mills whilst staring intently into my date’s eyes. I’ve been a handful of times since, and today I’m here to try a selection of autumnal specials all showcasing Grano Padano cheese. This works for me, there is the promise of truffles and plenty of wine. And cheese. Don’t get me started on my love of cheese.
Of the three dishes we try the first is my favourite by some distance. Two large gnocco that I incorrectly call gnuddi on Twitter afterwards. I can feel my Father’s forefathers’ spit hit the ground in disgust at my naivety. They are light and coated in cornflour for a contrasting crisp exterior. It’s the sauce that makes it; a rich cheesey puddle with the umami backnote of Worcestershire sauce. Plenty of black truffle might be more extravagental fragrance than flavour, but it’s one that I’m happy with. It’s perfumes the dish with an unmistakable autumnal scent.
Mushroom risotto arrives in a wheel of cheese for full theatrics. What is plated is a good risotto with plenty of mushrooms, a pinch of salt away from being perfect. The base has the depth that I assume comes from a dried porcini starting point with good quality stock absorbed into the arborio rice. The choice of rose wine as a pairing is a brave one, but works due to the acidity levels. A tuile made from the Grana Padano is formed into a basket, and inside has gnocchi in a pokey Gorgonzola sauce. It’s nice but lacks the same effect of the first two dishes.
We finish up with coffee and more wine, talking to the nice cheese man about nice cheeses from Northern Italy and trying to convince him to join us afterwards at the pub. I could go on and on about the different types but I seriously doubt anyone ever reads this looking for informative news. Instead let me tell you that the three dishes I tried are specials until the end of November and are bloody lovely. So lovely in fact that I now want to give my namesake a proper lookover once again. There is a simplicity to the best Italian food that San Carlo gets, how certain ingredients work together with the minimum of fuss. How dishes should be seasoned and then finished. It is another reason why I am proud to be a Carlo.
I was invited to the press event.
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