San Carlo

Fumo, Selfridges, Birmingham

The fit-out for Fumo at Selfridges is said to be one million sterling. A crazy amount of money for any restaurant, but a particularly obscene sum given (and yes, the clue is in the name) that it is within the confines of a shop. When I initially heard the plans, I thought the owner had lost his marbles. And now that I’ve sat inside the fourth floor restaurant, it is clear that someone else has found them and sold them back to him at a massive profit. It is a mass of polished calacatta, the kind that I sell for a day job and wonder who is buying it at the sort of money it commands. Answer: Here. It smells of money. Of high heels with coloured soles, of oversized handbags with padlocks, and of perfume made from the tears of Romany gypsies. I may have made the last bit up. Even the tables are thick marble, ours a large disc in the centre of the room big enough for six big gents and six bigger egos.

In the ninety or so minutes that we take to have lunch the queue outside would grow substantially. It is clearly working. The format is small plates, intended for those who can share. I can’t. The cuisine is Italian in the friendliest of senses – all prime cuts and smiles and things on toasted bread. There is no offal to be found here. I do wish I could find working organs in an Italian restaurant in Birmingham. Even if I do have to walk through Juicy Couture to get to them.

I get over myself with a bulb of burrata that has been marinated from the inside-out with black truffle, in the same way I like to marinate myself inside-out with red wine. Its more odour than flavour, just like the girl outside the doors waving cardboard strips of Channel no.5, though it works well with folds of Parma ham with glistening fat. I have pillowy gnocchi in a Grana Padana sauce, served in a basket made from the same cheese. I’ve had it before at other restaurants in the same group. It’s kitsch, but it is also tasting better than it ever has before. The basket has textural purpose as opposed to purely presentation.

Pork belly is substantial value for £9, roasted until the fat and meat knits together and the skin crisps up. On the side is an out of place wedge of charred cabbage from a chef who has been watching too much Masterchef, and a puddle of gravy that has a hit of balsamic and happiness. Next time I’ll know what to expect and order this alongside the mash potato with truffle. There is a polite ragu with clusters of beef mince that clings on to lengthy strips of pasta like a failed relationship. The last dish to arrive (this is small plates – they come when they are ready) are delicately fried prawns. The heads come away from the torso with the lightest of tugs and we savour both; dunking the body meat into a mayo sharpened with lemon and sucking in those lovely head juices. Not advertised are the courgette fries which come with it. These are superb, equally light and moreish.

They don’t have the dessert I want which we take as a signal to finish up and head off. Dinner with wine works out to be £40 per head, which seems very fair given the opulent surroundings and quality of food. I honestly wasn’t expecting much at Fumo, it’s in a shop and the menu seemed a little identikit, but I’m happy to stand corrected when I’m wrong. They cook with skill and there wasn’t a dud dish to be found. I’ll gladly brave the shopping crowds to eat here again. I liked it, Fumo. I liked it a lot.

8/10

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Fumo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

San Carlo, Grana Padano lunch 

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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San Carlo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato