Eating on your own can be a funny thing. It can be lonely or liberating, depending on where you go.
Snaffling a sausage roll outside a shop doorway is ok in certain circumstances, but sometimes you want a proper lunch, inside.
As the snow threatened to kill off the feeling in my toes entirely, the flames bellowing forth from the front of the recently opened San Carlo – the Italian chain that has proved to be a celeb-packed powerhouse of a place in Manchester and Liverpool – drew me in like a damp and hungry moth.
“I’m after some lunch, but I’m on my own, so I don’t mind perching on the bar or somewhere out of the way...” I offered.
“No, no, we have a table for you, come this way,” replied the genial front of house manager, leading me deep into the bowels of the warm orange and yellow-hued restaurant. What? Really? Tremendous.
Eating alone is often part of the job, but some places have a tendency to keep you out of the way; off the main drag, tucked in a corner or on a bar stool.
Not so with San Carlo. A couple of waiting staff came over for a bit of small talk as I took my seat, brushed off the snowflakes. Service as usual.
The restaurant itself was buzzing – the usual groups of suits, a handful of ladies that lunch, a few couples taking time out from the shops and, sat opposite me, two mid-50s looking gents (I’m guessing financial services or law firm) tucking into a lobster each. Recession? Not today thanks.
When it’s cold outside, a glass of decent red never does any harm, and a full-bodied glass of Barolo (£8.50) thawed me out just nicely.
There were a few eye-catching dishes on the specials menu, so I decided to give it exclusivity, starting with manzo pepato; thinly sliced peppered beef, gently seared, and served with a drizzled of olive oil and a hearty dollop of mustard mayonnaise. It also came with some sharp, but not overly vinegary onion bundled on top, and several polite, unobtrusive peas. A nice touch, adding a bit of depth to a wonderfully simple dish.
That was followed up by ravioli aragosta (£13), also available as a starter. This was another simple delight of a dish, as the firm but yielding pasta gave way to reveal luscious lobster and crab meat, all covered in a cream and peppercorn sauce.
I could have gone through another couple of servings of this, but I was feeling in a self-congratulatory mood for what I considered a capable spot of solo dining. That could have been the Barolo however.
I did have room for dessert though. Especially as it was still snowing outside. The apple tart (£4.95) with vanilla ice cream was light and buttery, with layers of soft sweet apple bringing the meal to a very good close. A glass of vino di santo dessert wine (£4.95) was a perfect companion, and was sagely pointed out by one of the waiting staff as the better choice of the two sweet wines on the menu.
San Carlo is a strange beast at times. Often chided for inconsistent food and erratic service (fairly, it has to be said) in Manchester, although undeniably successful. I waited 20 minutes for an espresso after the meal was finished on this trip, for example.
Its Leeds offering has a touch more refinement though and the food is very, very good. I’ll definitely be back. And I’ll be bringing a friend next time.
6-7 South Parade
0113 246 1500
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away
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