For what is undoubtedly one of the most popular cuisines in the world, you can find the footprint of Italian food just about everywhere.
From the mile long aisles at the supermarkets offering every imaginable pizza combination possible to the family run Italian restaurants serving traditional dishes made from their safeguarded for generations family recipes; practically every area of Italian food is covered.
Whether you might have noticed or not, it has been an interesting observation of mine that in most restaurants in Bristol serving Italian food, you can also find burgers and roast chickens as alternative options in case you feel undecided about having something Italian. With the overwhelming majority of restaurants specialising in serving the specific area of pizza and pasta, I have found that looking for an Italian restaurant serving authentic Italian food in Bristol is trickier than you think.
Having been previously visited one of San Carlo group’s restaurant in London, I eventually discovered that there was a branch in Bristol and I have visited there twice in the past months to get my staple fix of good Italian grub. The restaurant has a high ceiling dining room and is set in cream coloured wall panels with a roll of walled mirrors on one side and a number oversized artificial plants on the other. Not so contemporary but I can only imagine that this restaurant has seen a decade of memorable celebration dinners and is still very well maintained. The tables are relatively small and set a little too close to one another, but then this is somewhat typical for many informal Italian restaurants that are found on the continent.
Skipping the antipasto and jumping straight into primo course to start, we ordered the Fagottini San Carlo (£10.50) which was little pasta bundles with wild mushrooms in a cream based sauce and proved to be a refreshing pasta dish that was deliciously rich and silky smooth. With a resemblance to Ravioli, the Fagottini was cooked perfectly al-dente and every piece was generously filled making this a well satisfying primo. Since childhood, I have often used as Spaghetti Carbonara (£8.45) as a barometer to benchmark good pasta and this dish offered a good robust flavour but had the unfortunate misbalance of more sauce than pasta. The taste made a good impression and the rich sauce was filling but the dish was a little short on sustenance. Although you can find pizza everywhere, I simply could not resist trying it here even just as to see how it is suppose to be done.
Although the Pizza Diavola (£9.75) is not strictly Italian in origin but was made popular by Italian immigrants in Brooklyn New York, this tomato and cheese based pizza with spicy hot sausage, onions, chillies and ‘Nduja turned out to be quite a little gem with its crispy but yet moist dough base.
For Secondo, we ordered a Bistecca al Barolo (£18.95), a medallion steak sauteed with mushroom and garlic sauce, which was not only tender and full of flavour but was turned into a speechlessly divine experience with a glass of Chianti. We also ordered an Orata al Cartoccio (£15.95), a whole Sea Bream wrapped and cooked in a paper parcel folded to resemble an Origami swan. Upon wrapping the fish, a rich aroma of the herbs, olive oil, tomato and lemon is released to set the perfect tone with the texture of sea bream still very supple and juicy.
With the generous portions from the two courses, there was hardly any room left for dessert but after a minute’s contemplation on a full stomach, we decided that it was absolutely necessary to have in concluding a good meal. For good measure, we had the Tiramisu which was light, creamy with a delicate balance of mocha and espresso coffee delivered the awe inspiring taste experience which was seemingly like understanding poetry for the first time.
The overall experience is quite positive with an ambience which is relaxed, cosy and accompanied with friendly service. The restaurant opens until late compared with other restaurants and can be quite lively with group celebrations that can make noisy children seem like they are not even there. The portions are generous and offer reasonable value for what you get in food quality and service, making this is a good recommendation for sampling authentic Italian food in Bristol.
San Carlo Bristol
44 Corn St, Bristol BS1 1HQ
Telephone: 0117 922 6586