[Hale Barns, Greater Manchester] San Carlo Fiorentina

Over the years, we’ve had something of a love/hate thing with San Carlo. Last time, we’d concluded that it wasn’t as good as it likes to think it is and we’d no need to be rushing back. However, friends suggested eating there so that was a decision overturned. And it proved to be one of their good nights. Decent food, albeit at “they see you coming” sort of prices befitting this footballers wives sort of place (and, yes, we’ve seen footballers there in the past).

To start for one of us, there was “pesce veneziana” – something of a cross between a seafood stew and soup. There’s a lovely, perfectly seasoned winey broth and an array of seafood – white fish, mussels, scampi. It really is excellent. For the other, there’s rigatoni alla Norma. Properly al dente pasta and a well balanced tomato and aubergine sauce.

There’s pasta for one of the main courses in the form of lasagne. As with a few of their pasta dishes, you can have this as a starter or main course (as you can with the rigatoni). It’s the usual mix of pasta, Bolognese sauce, béchamel, mozzarella and a topping of Parmesan. A well flavoured, comforting dish. Lasagne is a regular order for my partner in any Italian and this was reckoned to be up there with the best. There was a classic saltimbocca as the other main. Three thin slices of veal, topped with prosciutto. Nice wine/butter sauce. There’s sage in there – quite a hefty use, almost too much but just on the right side. Sides are extras here which can put a dish well into the mid-20s, but there’s generous portion of zucchini fritti – fried shreds of courgette to you and me. The crisp texture contrasts well with the meat. And, after the rigatoni, no need for a main course carb.

As for desserts, I rate their tiramisu highly and can’t look beyond it on the menu. There’s a proper kick from booze and coffee. Pavlova wasn’t as good – tasted fine but the meringue was overly thick and you could have done with a hammer and chisel to break it up.

Service is good, if in a somewhat intrusive way. There always seems to be someone stretching their arm across to remove a single used glass and then coming back a little while later to remove the one that was next to it.

So, a very decent dinner. But do we need to rush back? Hmmmm.