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San Carlo - Birmingham Restaurant

When one of the country's most respected and leading critics says that this restaurant is 'the best Italian Restaurant outside London' it is time to take them seriously. Britain's love affair with Italian food is a cause célèbre of long standing and shows no signs of waning, so it is always welcome news when somewhere like San Carlo sets out to reach for the skies.

Located in the heart of Birmingham, San Carlo is well suited to catch both day and night time business, and the menu reflects this. There are 147 different dishes, plus blackboard specials, offering snacks, meals, celebrations, all in true Italian style, dishes that bring Italy into the very centre of life in Birmingham. San Carlo is the father of a chain of similar restaurants, yet each one has its own personality.

If you are one for rubbing shoulders with the various grades of celebrities, San Carlo could be a real winner before you even start looking at the menu, with football players, newsreaders, soap stars and high society movers and shakers all competing for poll positions.

Favourite dishes include sliced prime Scottish fillet of beef with a light dressing of capers, anchovies, garlic and extra virgin olive oil, and that old favourite of connoisseurs the world over, pan fried breast of chicken with white wine, mushrooms and cream sauce, garnished with asparagus. Many of the ingredients to create these dishes are imported from Italy, and it goes without saying that the wine list is unashamedly and spectacularly of the same origin.

A combination of Italian cuisine and fish has always seemed logical - all that coastline - as well as highly attractive to the British taste. The antipasti at San Carlo includes a mixture of squid, prawns and mussels, deep-fried whitebait, and scallops in white wine and garlic. Amongst the main courses expect to find on the blackboard Dover sole, grilled whole sea bass, a mixed grill of fish, special pasta with lobster, brandy, tomato, cream and peas, or giant prawn and scallops in garlic and chilli.

It is customary to look for Italian wines in such places, nor will you be disappointed, but there are a few French inclusions also, with a rather nice Chablis in evidence. House wines, and few off the list, are available by the glass. Service is a good example of that Italian ?just make yourself at home we'll look after everything? manner, when you generally surprise yourself by taking their advice. In Britain we just say ?no problem?, which may be succinct, but lacks style.

The restaurant has had a major refurbishment, with the aim of providing more covers in the lower level restaurant, giving a capacity for over 200 guests. Groups are welcome at San Carlo, but to preserve the balance between groups, a limit of up to nine people applies on Friday and Saturday, and twenty to thirty on weekdays. Booking will always make for security but in general the new arrangements mean there is room for everybody.

Ultimately a restaurant is judged by two main factors, each dependent upon the other. Combine quality food with life's movers and shakers in attractive surroundings and you have a sure fire record for the sweet buzz of success that permeates San Carlo.
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