On a recent trip to my home city of Manchester, I had the most disappointing meal I’ve had in a really really long time. So much so that I felt compelled to write about it. The restaurant? San Carlo Manchester.
It was a Saturday night and I was really excited about dinner that evening. Firstly, because I’d managed to secure a 9pm reservation at San Carlo just 24 hours earlier (which is unheard of for a Saturday night), secondly because I hadn’t visited the restaurant for a really long time (at least 5 years) so I was looking forward to see how it had evolved and lastly, because one of our close friends was joining Mr O’T and I for dinner.
We arrived promptly for our dinner reservation and were pointed in the direction of the bar. This was ideal as it meant we had time for a quick pre-dinner aperitif before we sat down. Since my last visit, this Italian restaurant has soared in popularity particularly with celebrities which I find intriguing. A lot of the local soap stars (from Coronation Street) like to be papped here, as do the footballers from Manchester United and Manchester City. Aside from this though, it seems to have a bit of global celebrity footprint going on – more on this later.
The bar was packed and the photo I took doesn’t even cover half of the bar space. In total, there must have been at least 40 people clutching drinks in their hands and it didn’t take me long to realise that they were all waiting to be seated too! Three quarters of an hour later, I went back over to the hostesses (all 3 of them!) for the umpteenth time to ask about our table. It was almost 10pm and we were all really hungry by this point. The restaurant was pretty chaotic too with waiters running around like headless chickens. Given we had a 9pm booking, this wasn’t really acceptable. After getting tired of seeing my face, the hostess finally ushered us over to our table. I must admit, I felt a little guilty as there were still diners waiting to be seated who had arrived before us but my stomach couldn’t wait any longer. When I’m hungry, you know about it because I get cranky 🙂 .
After 10 minutes of being seated and asking two different waiters, we were finally handed menus. By this point my patience was starting to wear a little thin. The food really had to be something special to turn my dining experience around. Now, this next part still baffles me a little. We were handed two menus, a specials menu and an a la carte menu, nothing odd about that.
Now the specials menu (on the right of the photo below) had 56 dishes to choose from! 56 and I know this because I counted them…and that’s not even including desserts!! The a la carte menu contained at least another 70 menu options, again excluding desserts. Now I’m all about selection but this really was something else.
Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the choice on offer, we decided to keep things simple and share a combination of starters which included garlic bread, buffalo mozzarella with aubergines and prawns in a tomato broth. The garlic bread disappeared in record speed as it was the first starter to come out. This was fairly thin in texture and not too dough-ey which I like. It tasted good although my taste buds could have been deceiving me because I was so hungry.
The buffalo mozzarella was soft but not overly creamy (which is a shame as I love creamy buffalo and burrata). The aubergines were splashed with a hint of olive oil but lacked in taste.
The prawns were succulent but the tomato sauce that came with it, was quite watery.
For mains I opted for the ‘trio of pasta’. There was no description on the menu as to which pastas this included so I asked the waiter to elaborate. The response I received was literally ‘whatever the chef decides’. I didn’t really want to look back over at the menu options so I went ahead and ordered this.
And what a disappointment this was. The combination I was served was tagliatelle bolognese, spaghetti pomodoro and mushroom penne. The pomodoro was tasty and full of flavour but the other two pastas lacked any taste whatsoever. I’m not one to eat for the sake of eating and like to use my calories wisely, so with a great deal of dissatisfaction, I put my knife and fork down.
Mr O’T ordered the Halibut which came with a gravy sauce on the side. This was nice but not mind blowing and our friend ordered the same pasta dish as me.
I was so willing for my experience at San Carlo to be amazing but sadly it was anything but. I fed back my thoughts to the waiter and was met with disbelief and grumpy muttering. By this point it was very late and I didn’t have the energy to speak with the restaurant manager. As a guest, it was clear to see that staff have become so accustomed to everyone telling them what an amazing restaurant they seem to believe their own hype. They also seem more interested in adding to their celebrity wall of fame than they do about good service and good quality Italian food.
Needless to say we passed on dessert! My parting words to management are: If your restaurant doesn’t have the capacity to take diners then don’t advertise your restaurant as having availability. Focus on the clientele you do have through the door and focus on serving them well with good quality food. If you’re in Manchester anytime soon and are after tasty Italian cuisine, then I would give San Carlo a miss for a while. You will fare much better at Jamie’s Italian down the road.
Have you visited San Carlo Manchester before? If so, I hope your experience was much better than mine!