In San Carlo, no-one has secrets. We dine as one. 175 of us; dangly earring snagged to dangly earring, tumbled together in a tangled mass of Elnett and Swarovski.

As we wait in the holding pen of the bar, a maître d’ ushers later arrivals than us (a cast of people who obviously spend more time being sprayed with dihydroxyacetone than us; a fact which automatically bestows certain privileges in these parts) to snug booths. They could be Andy Carroll, or Rebecca Ferguson, or Alex Curran, or perhaps a mixture of all three. It’s really difficult to tell with everyone wearing the San Carlo home strip and we’re on the subs bench, caught in that awkward state between being under and over dressed. Perched in anticipation of being picked for the first team.

Try this. Do a Google Image search for San Carlo Liverpool. You’ll not find a single shot of food, just a procession of tight trousered women with animated hair and unplugged faces, chaps in jeans that cost the price of a house in Anfield. And bad iPhone cases. Lots of bad iPhone cases.

Same goes with their window display. No glistening plates of fusilli or Michelin certificates. Just shots of Rihanna. Yeah, because she so looks like she mainlines gnocchi.

The woman next to us at the blue neon bar has jet black hair, a glittery décolleté and skin like a paperback left out on the patio all summer. Before she leaves the house, an order of monks have hunched over her, painstakingly illuminating her margins with tiny henna hearts and metallic curlicues. There is not an inch of her body that doesn’t shimmer, glow, sparkle or, in the case of her wrists, spell out ‘your the one’. Her nails curl around her man like the beaks of wader birds ferreting for worms in the rip-tide. Or like tiny daggers.

They embrace. Her goblet of Merlot bleeds onto the arse vents of her man’s suit jacket, as they bounce over his Gio Goi-clad buttocks like semaphore flags spelling out ‘ship about to dock’.

A waiter strolls around, kissing things. Lips, arms, fingers, a length of imported Indian hair clamped onto a Garston head. Around his neck he wears a golden ashtray, like he’s won first prize in a smoke-off. We learn it’s a tastevin, a little cup for tasting wine in. He’s the sommelier. He has the face of a man not unaccustomed to people drinking from his golden cup. It’s at times like this that I’m glad I never taste. I just let them pour.

Snake-hipped waiters slink their way through the tightly packed labyrinth of tables, bobbing and weaving like ball bearings in a bagatelle. Try and catch them, and they’ll slip through your fingers like quicksilver. They’re here to attend to the Queens in the booths. We’re here to consume food. Quickly.

We sit next to the woman with the jet black hair. Now extracted from the jaw of her companion they examine the menus and the conversation begins.

“Did you have sports day at your school?” she asks.

I’d imagined many potential openers. Liverpool’s poor form, the new series of TOWIE, ongoing PPI negotiations. Egg and spoon races wasn’t one of them.

How long have they known each other? How long do you know someone before you’ve exhausted your primary school’s sporting triumphs?

“I’m in hospital in the morning,” she says, as she wraps her lips around a fleshy scallop. “So I’ll burn this off.”

It’s difficult to move in San Carlo. And shaking is right out of the question – unless you want to concuss the PR woman next to you and end up being blacklisted from every glossy magazine in the city, or accidentally finger her Bianchetti Fritti.

San Carlo is, currently, the hottest spot in town. The food is, on the whole, decent mid-market Italian: juicy beef medallions wrapped in parma ham with truffle sauce, lamb cutlets in Madeira, and the usual pasta dishes served furiously by waiters who have no time, nor care, to let you dawdle. Our table will be turned, what, three or four times in the evening? Why would we want to wait more than five minutes between courses? What are we, hungry?

But this isn’t a place to come and eat. It’s a place to come and show. The clues are there on the website: “The atmosphere is electric and the surroundings luxurious, it’s no wonder that San Carlo Liverpool is the first choice for the region’s high profile movers and shakers.”

It’s difficult to move in San Carlo. And shaking is right out of the question – unless you want to concuss the PR woman next to you and end up being blacklisted from every glossy magazine in the city, or accidentally finger her Bianchetti Fritti. And we don’t imagine a careless bump goes down well in San Carlo. Despite the fact that we’re all, essentially, in a big culinary orgy, we keep our elbows in. And we try not to acknowledge that most of the men here are dining on a side order of frottage when they slink off to the toilets. Again.

“The dining room is wide open and airy,” the website says. It’s not.

It’s noisy, shrill and enervating. It’s like a Polish pig farm, a cramped pen of sow crates, with a metallic, industrial soundtrack like Einstürzende Neubauten with breadsticks.

And this is where Liverpool comes to dine. We spent £130, and lasted about an hour. We’re not really sure what we’ve experienced. But to say we went out for dinner was to sell the experience very short indeed.

We walk home in silence. But we both think we’ll be back.

San Carlo
Castle Street, Liverpool

10 Responses to “Review: Eating with our eyes – a night in San Carlo”

  1. Ronnie de Ramper

    Great review. Thanks, really. I might, in a moment of utter madness, have been tempted to go. But now I’ll be careful to treat the place as if it served salmonella with horseflesh. And it might!

  2. Droll review and very similar to when I went. A strangely compelling experience. Too pricey for me, but the food was good.

    I don’t subscribe the the opinion that the demographic who go are somehow better or worse than any other, just different. In my experience some of the most judgemental crowds in the city hang out in places like Mello Mello, Kazimier and Shipping Forecast. If you don’t listen to the right music or dress the right way, you are made to feel unwelcome. Despite protestations to the contrary, any venue that positions itself (which all of the above do) for a certain market, by implication shun others and this seeps into the psyche of some who frequent them. Most places have a “uniform” that you need to be seen in to fit in.

  3. Ronnie Hughes. Nothing strange in it at all. The reason this isn’t on their website is probably because this is a fresh article that has only recently been released, and they prob haven’t updated their website. The probably wouldn’t want to list this one as it doesn’t paint the restaurant in too good a light. Common sense really! I agree with the whole article and wouldn’t want to live the experience of going to pay over £100 for an hours food and entertainment (which people watching surely is). There is a plethora of places with better food in town where you aren’t rushed and where you are welcomed for you as a valued customer rather than being welcomed because you got the right dress and shoes on.

  4. I went here after my civil partnership with some friends. It was the middle of the day and we were treated like kings and given some wonderful food. Fantastic.

    It was so good that we went back for my birthday in January. That time, unfortunately, we had to compete with celebrities and group bookings. And we were ignored. We were there for half an hour before we even got a menu (they made sure we had drinks so we wouldn’t leave); it got so bad that the ladies at the next table pointed it out to the waiter when their starters arrived, despite us not having spoken to them at all. We were then effectively abandoned while we watched everyone else have a better time around us. I was profoundly disappointed by somewhere that I’d really loved on my first visit.

  5. I’ve eaten here many times. Never felt rushed (though yes, the service is quick – that’s not a problem for me. Sure, its noisy and vibrant, but the food is really very good, particularly the fish and seafood – because of the turnover its fresh and cooked properly. And yes, I’ve seen a footballer EVERY time. Last time Stephen Pienaar and Johnny Heitinga (who I think were conversing in Dutch to avoid earwiggers no doubt)

    It is the place to ‘be seen’ but there are plenty of different people here. Personally, I wouldn’t go on Saturday night. Use your common sense – the most popular place in town is bound to be manic on Saturdays. But midweek, or Sunday night – never found a fault with it

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