This beaut joint used to be the ‘it’ restaurant in Liverpool, Leicester and Manchester. Photos of celebrity diners lined the window ledges and mini dress-clad glamazons arrived in their masses with preened other halves in tow. I remember my best friend telling me she wouldn’t give her now-husband a second date if it wasn’t at San Carlo. They went to McDonald’s in the end (and still ended up married) but the hype for this Italian spot was real. Brand-spanking-new venues started popping up left, right and centre to steal the limelight though - until now.
This year, the Liverpool location has undergone a whopping £3.5 million makeover and my, oh my, it’s certainly is quite the glow up. Upon entry, I was bowled over by the new-look interior. It’s cool, contemporary and colourful; a clash of patterns, shapes, hues and textures that look effortlessly Capri-chic but must have been meticulously designed by a true expert. Like how pasta water takes to sauce, an inviting gilded glow pulls everything together deliciously with gold accents and warm lighting throughout. Even the staff seem to have a regained a lustre I felt they’d lost of late, welcoming us back with smiles and great service from the second we arrived.
Speaking of delicious, let’s get down to the good stuff: Italian red wine. We chose a bottle of Sicilian Syrah (£40) from the San Carlo wine menu that promised an ‘extremely intense ruby with notes of cherry, red fruit and sweet spices'. Well, 10/10 Sicily. It was one of the smoothest vinos from this grape that I’ve had the pleasure of quaffing - jammy but still full of depth and dimension. Yum.
Glasses full, tummies rumbling and suitably satisfied with our ogling of the stunning interior, we were more than pleased to see our starters arrive: calamari fritti (£10.95) with tartare sauce and fresh chilli served in a chrome octopus bowl, alongside a garlic bread with cheese (£7.95). The deep-fried squid was okay - a bit too tentacle-y and bland for us - but the good ol' dough was a fine specimen, to say the least, hitting the spot even though we passed up the general San Carlo pizza menu.
Next up? Mains, in the form of gnocchi Sorrentina (£16.95) and spaghetti carbonara (£9.95). The full menu is extensive, but what better way to put an authentic Italian restaurant through its paces than by opting for the classics? Then there’s nowhere to hide. Having been disappointed in recent years, I’m chuffed to say that both exceeded our expectations. The fresh gnocchi was baked in a rich tomato sauce and topped with molten pools of burrata cheese. The carbonara was a tasty concoction of pancetta, egg, Parmesan and cream. Plus, it’s nice to have the option of ordering pasta dishes in one of two sizes - for those of us who aren’t prepared to sacrifice space in our stomachs for dessert.
On the topic of puds: whatever you do, do not leave the (beautiful) building without trying the traditional tiramisu (£8.95) from the dolci menu. It had that truly homemade feel about it, while being silky in texture with a generous layer of coffee-soaked sponge. If caffeine for dinner isn’t your idea of fun, the Sicilian torta pistachio (£8.50) is your next dreamy go-to cake. Simply perfetto.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Is this the cheapest way to get your fix of classic Italian restaurants in Liverpool? Not by a long shot. Is it worth the extra investment? I think so, particularly when you take the almighty makeover and first-class service into account. These guys have got every sense nurtured now - the food tastes fantastic and the smell of authentic Italian flavours waft through an interior space that really is a sight for sore eyes. If you’re looking for something safe but still special, you’re in great hands at San Carlo.
💰 The damage: Just over £100 for a 3-course meal for two with a mid to high range bottle of wine.
📍 The location: 41 Castle Street, L2 9SH.
👌 Perfect for: An elevated but accessible Italian experience for special occasions and date nights.
⭐ Need to know: There's a drop-dead-gorgeous space downstairs for private dining at San Carlo Liverpool.