San Carlo: an Italian that hits the target?

There are times when a man is overcome by an overwhelming desire to dine off the liver of a calf.

Thus I found myself in an Italian restaurant for they are specialists in cooking that delicacy.
To be more specific, I visited San Carlo, a long-established business that, in a city bereft of high-quality Italian restaurants, is probably the most highly-regarded.
It isn’t a place that’s wowed me particularly in the past, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
And, I’m delighted to say, the infant bovine hadn’t died in vain for its liver was very good.

The decor

It’s a perfectly pleasant place to sit – a deep unit in the heart of Birmingham’s business quarter.
The lighting is perhaps a touch too bright and the tables are maybe a little too close one another, but these are minor matters.
There are mirrored walls to make the place seem larger and lots of decorate wine bottles to try to give it an edge of authenticity.
The placing of a great big tomato and a lemon on each table is a bit silly.
But at least there appears to be no brandishing of enormous phallic pepper grinders by macho waiters.

The service

A charge that I’ve heard levelled at San Carlo in the past is the brusqueness of the waiters.
That certainly wasn’t the case here – they were hospitable and charming.
To the extent that when I ordered a glass of Chianti, I was brought instead a glass of Puglian primitivo to try instead for the maitre d’ thought it a better wine. It was. So I went with his choice.
Service was swift and efficient.

The food

This was a night for plain food and I began with that hearty soup, pasta e fagioli.
Pasta tubes and borlotti beans came in a rich tomatoey stock with good depth of flavour.
Topped with lots of excellent Parmesan, this was a satisfying and generous bowl.
Opposite ham and melon looked pretty but got a mixed reception.
The prosciutto was well-received, but there were complaints that some of the melon was a little underripe.
Nevertheless, it vanished pretty swiftly.
The calves liver that I ate next was good stuff – tender, sweet and flavoursome.
Were I to be pernickety, it might have benefited from being cooked for a slight shorter time at a much higher heat.
Sage leaves added earthy herbal notes and a squeeze of lemon livened things up.
My wife’s sea bass, still on the bone and still bearing a head that I thought bore a remarkable likeness to Nigel Farage, looked a glorious thing.
She deftly removed the pearly white and succulent meat from the skeleton and murmured appreciatively, something she’s rarely inclined to do.
A side salad of spinach, sun-dried tomato and lightly toasted pine nuts was pleasant.
A bowl of chips, floppier than a posh bloke’s handshake, lay largely untouched.
Portions were so large that deserts weren’t ordered.

Need to know

We paid £91 for two courses each, two glasses of wine, a beer and bottled water.
Cut costs by ordering pasta or pizza.
It’s child-friendly.
It’s city centre so parking can be a challenge.
Open Monday to Sunday 12pm to 11pm.

San Carlo
4 Temple St, Birmingham B2 5BN. 0121 633 0251.