[Hale Barns, Greater Manchester] San Carlo Fiorentina

It’s about a year since we last visited the restaurant. In between, we’ve been to San Carlo’s new place at Alderley Edge. We hoped that might become our “go to” Italian, as it’s a bit easier to get to than Fiorentina. But it disappointed us on a number of different levels – tables crammed together, noisy, indifferent service and a standard of cooking not a patch on Fiorentina. Which is why we’re back here.

Speaking of service, I’d like to hope that the delay in taking orders was down to them being short staffed on the night, rather than anything more significant. But it does suck some of the enjoyment out of the evening when you’re sat there finger-tapping. But, once orders were finally in the system, everything was fine.

One of the nice things about San Carlo is they offer a number of pasta dishes in starter size as well as main course. So, there was a rigatoni alla Norma for one of us. A rich and clingy sauce of aubergine, tomato, garlic and basil, with a grating of pecorino on top… Yes, it’s a starter portion but one big enough that you don’t need to order a carb with your main course. And , in that case, it was tagliata. Now, in Italy, that’s usually sliced steak on a bed of rocket, topped with shavings of Parmesan. It’s not as good here. The rocket is more garnish than proper salad and the cheese comes in one big slice. But. it’s OK.

Another dish that you can have as starter or main is melanzane alla Parmigiana. Slices of aubergine baked in a tomato sauce, with the cheese grated through it. This was really tasty. We’d ordered garlic bread which was good for scooping up the sauce. That was followed by a chicken main course. They bat out a chicken breast so it’s quite thin and cooks quickly, but is still moist. There’s another tomato sauce – this one given some heat from nduja. And, if nduja isn’t making it pokey enough, there’s a griddled red chilli. It needed something else. And that something was zucchini fritte - shreds of courgette battered and fried to crisp. A number of restaurants offer fried courgette but this really is the best.

We didn’t fancy dessert but, as you’d expect in an Italian gaff, espresso was top notch.