Two years ago, in my second year of university, I lived on the other side of the city to my university, meaning I had to take a short train ride and then walk from the station any time I had a lecture. My walk from New Street station to university normally always took me past San Carlo on Temple Row in Birmingham city centre. It has a real flame torch outside which is lit during the day and at nighttime, which was the first thing that drew my attention to it; that and their amazing seafood displays featuring lots of lemons. I put it on my ‘to-do before I leave Birmingham’ list, intending to go with my flatmates at the end of second year before we all parted ways for our placement year, but never got round to going; that is until about a month ago, when we went for my friend Jasmin’s birthday.
San Carlo is an Italian restaurant specialising in seafood, situated smack bang in the middle of the city centre, surrounded by lots of other bars and restaurants. It’s hard to miss, with its flaming torch and neon blue signage, but despite the Vegas-esque lighting, it oozes class and sophistication. My friends and I had been talking for years about going to “the flame restaurant”, and ironically the torch wasn’t lit when we went for our meal; the first time I’ve ever seen it extinguished during opening hours.
On entry, there are the most beautiful displays of fresh seafood, and we were approached by a member of staff who promptly showed us to our table on the lower floor. The restaurant was largely empty, and we were initially the only people on our floor. The décor is quite clever, making a relatively small and quite dim room seem larger and less claustrophobic with the use of mirrors and simple decoration.
The menu is an impressive mix of vegetarian, meat and fish dishes, including a wide variety of pasta, pizza and fresh seafood. You’re presented with a staple menu, served all the time, with the pasta and pizza on, and you’re also given a Chef’s specials menu with all the seafood dishes on. There is a huge selection, and the only people I can’t imagine it would be suitable for is vegans.
We ordered our drinks to begin with, and I had the house red wine which turned out to be very easy to drink. To eat, I skipped on a starter and went straight for a main course of tomato, aubergine, onion and garlic rigatoni sprinkled with Grana Padano cheese. The portion size was just right, especially as I shared a side of courgette fritters (very thin slices of courgette, almost like courgette fries, lightly fried in a batter reminiscent of the batter used for Spanish calamares) which were amazing! After all the food, I was too full for dessert, but they had another wide selection of sweets and coffees, and the tiramisu was calling to me.
Price-wise, San Carlo is probably a little pricey for a student budget, but you pay for the experience, and we had a great one. I paid around £18 for my large red wine, rigatoni and half the courgette fritters. We felt like real adults for a couple of hours, enjoying a fancy meal with wine. All the staff were very polite and accommodating, and even offered suggestions to some of my friends who were questioning which dish to order. I felt very comfortable, and they were even kind enough to take a photo of us on our way out!
I would definitely recommend San Carlo to anyone looking for a decent Italian restaurant in Birmingham that differs from the likes of Pizza Italia, Pizza Express and Ask Italian. I would especially recommend it to anyone who loves seafood – while I can’t offer my own opinion on any of the fish dishes, a few of my friends ordered fish and seafood and they all praised it highly.