San Carlo: An Afternoon with Aldo Zilli

I’ll be honest, I’ve walked up and down Corn Street many times since I moved here and not once did I notice San Carlo at the top of the road. The exterior comprises of ghoulish grey stone walls, windows illuminated with the neon blue and red colours of the San Carlo logo and there’s a huge black torch attached to the wall. Not the type of restaurant I’d normally do a double-take on. But you know what they say, don’t judge a book by its cover …

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Look a little closer and you’ll see rustic window displays with pumpkins spilling out of wooden crates onto the windowsills and cured meats hanging from above. Italian wines line the upper ledges and a number of marbled tables, similar to those used in cicchetti-serving restaurants in Italy, can be seen just beyond. And it was the Italian cuisine at San Carlo which celebrity chef, Aldo Zilli, invited us to try on a sunny Friday afternoon.

After stepping inside, it was clear we were entering a pretty lavish restaurant. To say I felt underdressed in my staple back leggings would be an understatement. Waiters glided gracefully about the floor, expertly cradling several dishes in the crooks of their arms. Every table was beautifully laid out with an array of cutlery and glasses with gleaming white napkins and side plates. Orb-like lights hung low from the ceiling and panelled vintage mirrors (imported from Italy) lined the walls, giving San Carlo an extra Italian touch.

IMG_1077When seated we were offered a glass of bellini garnished with a strawberry at the top of the glass to accompany our Sicilian orange, fennel and basil salad and mozzarella, pepper and tomato pizza. The salad was fragrant and light, the tangy Sicilian orange complimenting the aniseed-like flavour of the fennel. The pizza was surprisingly cold but the combination of fresh peppers and mozzarella layered on top still worked wonderfully well on the thin crispy base.

Up next was the Fillet tartare (which included gherkins, capers, shallots and anchovies) and the Altamura bruschetta topped with aubergine and mint – both were beautifully presented and bursting with flavour. The steak tartare was expertly put together by a member of staff in front of our table, bringing a mustardy undertone to the palate as the various ingredients blended together on a crisp piece of toast.

Moving on to the hot dishes, we were served an asparagus, pea and smoked mozzarella risotto garnished with grated parmesan and truffle. Every mouthful was a delight as the smoked cheese IMG_1100seeped into the perfectly cooked rice, the asparagus adding a slight crunch to each bite. The surprise wild mushroom and truffle ravioli stole the spotlight however. Drizzled in truffle oil and wrapped in thin sheets of fresh pasta, I could have eaten that ravioli over and over again. Even the cheese used in the ravioli was specially made for Aldo Zilli. Oh it makes me drool just thinking about it.

The fish dishes, the chargrilled Sicillian prawns and lemon sole, ended our round of main course dishes. I’m not the biggest fish person, as you know if you’ve read my previous blog posts. But oh my, the prawns and sole were so delicate in texture and well-seasoned they could make anyone fall in love with fish. The prawns even came with a bowl of lemon water which you could clean your hands with after.

Our Italian feast finished on a sweet note with a strawberry flan and a (strong) americano as we spoke with Aldo Zilli until the late hours of the afternoon, discussing his colourful life, his recent successes and – er, Vscocam!

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San Carlo’s may not be somewhere I would have instinctively chosen to go to for a meal but the food was exquisite and artfully presented. Every dish brought with it a new fusion of tastes which were faithful to their Italian origins and the diligence of the staff was faultless. Hats off to chef Diego who cooked in the place of the temporarily lame Aldo!

Please Note: Whilst I was invited to sample and review the food, all opinions are my own. Photos are also mine so please do not use without permission. Thanks!

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