I love blogging but its not always easy juggling it with a hectic full time job. Sometimes though, something crops up which highlights just how fab blogging can be and makes it all doubly worth while. You could say last Friday was an example of that. An invite to San Carlo in Leicester to try elements of their new menu. Oh... cooked by Aldo Zilli.
It was my birthday this week so I booked the day off work and with one of my best friends in tow, headed over to Leicester for what I expected would be a quick hello as Aldo waved from the pass, followed by some average Anglo-Italian food smothered in tomato sauce and plastic Parmesan. Turns out I was wrong.
San Carlo is a family run group of restaurants with authentic Italian food at its heart. In total there are 6 San Carlos - in Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds plus their other brands including the high end 'tapas style' Cicchetti in Manchester and recently opened branch in London. The Leicester San Carlo is on Granby Street, in an impressive Victorian building, inside there's a more modern vibe.
As Chef Patron, Aldo Zilli is heavily involved in menu development and chef training for the San Carlo group and he joined us in sunny Leicester last week to give us a sneak preview of what's coming up on their new winter menu. We joined fellow foodie blogger Adam from The British Menu and the friendly folk from Things to do in Leicester, Great Food Club and The Beacon Magazine and all I can say is I'm glad I skipped breakfast as we were in for a full on feast. I was impressed by the regionality of the dishes served (which is of course, what Italian food is defined by) , we tried everything from wild hare ragu with chocolate pasta to langoustine and clam served with Sardinian fregola.
We started with a selection of focaccia and delicious bruchetta with truffle cream and mushrooms from Aldo's garden. Then we moved on to my favourite part of the meal - Chilli Squid. Aldo showed us how to prepare a squid and taught us that for tenderness, the squid is better cut on the angle rather than in rings. It was by far the best I've ever eaten, served with chargrilled lemon and crispy garlic and chilli.
We then went on to try the silky golden tagliolini with generous helpings of truffle grated on the top. The pasta, which Aldo made in front of us was light and perfectly cooked with just a little bite. I know what you're thinking.. what more could there be? We then tried Fregola with clams and langoustines. Fregola is sardinian and kind of like giant cous cous. I've heard Nigella talk about it before but had never tried it.
The rest of the meal included chocolate pasta (again made by Aldo in front of us) with a rich wild hare ragu. You could taste the chocolate coming through the rich gamey flavour of the hare and they complimented eachother very well. The flavours were so intense and perfect for winter. We also tried delicate Dover Sole cooked with black butter and capers - served simply with steamed spinach which was all it needed.
By this point I think we were all fit to bursting but when the platters of Cicchetti style desserts arrived, we some how rose to the challenge.... just about!
If like me, you've been walking past San Carlo for years, I urge you to book a table and go in! I can't guarantee Aldo Zilli will be stood at the end of your table rolling out the pasta but the food will be great - with his experience and teachings, the chefs are producing authentic Italian recipes cooked with passion and flair. I will be heading back there soon with the hubby - although perhaps we'll stick to just three courses next time.
You can book a table at San Carlo Leicester, online or by calling +44 (0)116 251 9332.