Restaurant review - San Carlo Fiorentina, Hale Barns
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 March 2014 | UPDATED: 15:16 13 January 2018
The former Players restaurant at the Marriott in Hale Barns is now a San Carlo, but with the addition of 'Fiorentina' to its name, to signify its slightly different menu. We sent a San Carlo fan along for his opinion
By common consent, the opening in Cheshire of a branch of San Carlo, the hugely successful Italian restaurant group where celebrities love to dine - and, as importantly, be seen - makes for a match made in heaven as well as exercising obvious commercial logic.
Moreover the venue itself - the former Players restaurant and bar at the Marriott Hotel in Hale Barns, close to Manchester Airport - has for years been an out-of-town haunt of the famous, especially those of a sporting ilk. I recall interviewing Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff - once reputed to pull pints behind the bar - here, and Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler, whose Cheshire-based sports management company represents some of the world’s leading golfers and cricketers.
Much is recognisable about the place from those days - the clubby atmosphere, arrangement of circular booth leather seating and the rich, golden-hued wooden panelling and signed celebrity photographs - now endowed with San Carlo’s signature strategic placing of bottles, flower arrangements, plants and bowls of lemons and tomatoes. Will more of the San Carlo pizzazz be introduced in time? Bank on it.
The new restaurant brings the number of UK operations in the group to 13, and whilE the first San Carlo restaurant opened in Birmingham, Manchester is undoubtedly the group’s spiritual home with a concentration of outlets in the city including San Carlo and the excellent San Carlo Cicchetti on King Street West and latterly San Carlo Bottega and Farmacia del Dolce in Selfridges. Next up will be a second branch of Cicchetti in London, in Covent Garden.
Like Bottega (meaning the studio of a master artist) before it, San Carlo’s Hale Barns has been accorded a second name: Fiorentina, the region of Florence famed for its steak recipes. Hence the installation of a special wood-fired, open-flame Robata grill and the offer of a special grill menu to augment San Carlo’s signature menu of seafood and fish dishes, meat, pasta and pizzas.
We visited at lunchtime soon after the restaurant’s opening to find the place buzzing and not without its celebrity diners. We spotted Coronation Street, Royle Family and Waking the Dead star Sue Johnston enjoying San Carlo’s ambience with a group of friends. There may well have been others.
Mrs K began in rustic Florentine style with Salsiccia Toscana con Spinachi (£7.95) - spiced Tuscan pork and fennel sausages with spinach spiked with chilli - a simple but highly satisfying combination of authentic forthright flavours that looked the part too. I started with crab and prawn cakes (£8.35) served on a skewer with chilli dip on a wooden board, perhaps tellingly not accorded an Italian name. Maybe it’s because I’m over-familiar with the Thai version of this dish, that I found it rather one dimensional, dense and a little bland - a nod towards fashion rather than Florence methinks.
The main courses were splendid. I decided to exercise that Robata grill by ordering the 21-day aged 10oz Ribeye steak (£18.50) - sourced in the Ribble Valley, 28-day aged steaks are also available up to Chateaubriand at £48 for two - and it came exactly medium rare as ordered. The beef, for which a pot of tip-top Bearnaise added another £1, was tender and boasted excellent flavour, enhanced by the flame grilling. Mrs K opted for Coda di Rospo ‘Aurora’ (£17.80), a thick cut wedge of perfectly cooked, moist but firm and meaty monkfish served with a garlic and white wine cream sauce and cherry tomatoes. We shared sides of spinach and garlic and lovely sauté potatoes with bacon, onion and rosemary for £3 and £2.85 respectively.
We both enjoyed desserts from a familiar list of traditional favourites augmented by ice cream, sorbet and semifreddo. I chose panna cotta with fruits (£5.45), smooth and silky that slipped down a treat, while Mrs K had a delicious Cannolo Siciliano (£6.20), lovely light and crisp pastry shell piped with sweet ricotta cream, candied fruits and chocolate chips...served with a glass of Sicilian sweet marsala wine. Molto bella!
From an interesting and reasonably priced wine list we drank a bottle of Batasiolo Gavi, a refreshing white made from the cortese grape in Piemonte and I accompanied that excellent ribeye with a glass of robust house Chianti (£6.10).
San Carlo Fiorentina, Marriott, Hotel, Hale Road, Hale Barns, Cheshire, WA15 8XQ.
Tel 0161 904 5043; www.sancarlo.co.uk