Eating out...San Carlo Cicchetti in Piccadilly

Classically Italian in the heart of Piccadilly.

Though perilously close to the tourist throng of Leicester Square, San Carlo Cicchetti is an Italian restaurant that is definitely worth visiting if you are looking for a relaxed and authentic eating experience. The window display invites you in by showcasing the produce that makes up the menu; huge hams hanging above fresh fish, shellfish, fruit and vegetables. We dropped by for a drink on an evening in London and ended up returning for a meal having been tempted by the dishes we saw being served up around us. Coming from an Italian family we enjoy revisiting traditional specialities that aren't usually seen on the menus of larger chains. We weren’t disappointed!

Inside the restaurant is bright and comfortable. Tables for diners are not cramped, the bar running down the side provides a space for a leisurely drink on its own or before dinner. Numerous waiters and barmen move swiftly around the room. At the back of the restaurant is a roaring wood fired oven with a constantly busy chef turning out pizzas and breads for diners. If you come to have a drink at the bar you are given some of these tasty morsels along with your wine, warm from the oven. In fact it was these tasty treats that made us want to try a meal here…

Cicchetti is named for the small dishes it produces, a Venetian speciality. Similar to now familiar tapas style dining, chichetti are smaller sized plates of food, served as ready and shared between diners. The dishes served here are big enough to enjoy on your own if you like, or to share between you all. We opted for some sharing plates anyway as they looked so appealing, along with some individual plates which we all had a share of between us. So, even though we had come with the pizza oven in mind we didn't actually order anything from there!

To start we had Frito Portofino: battered and deep fried scallops, king prawns and calamari served with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and an amazing Calabrese spicy tomato dip. The batter was beautifully crisp and the seafood cooked to perfection within. The scallops were particularly good; large and retaining their delicate texture and flavour. The Calabrese dip was tomatoey and spicy, and we ended up dipping a rather large quantity of bread in this too.

Our mains were served up as they were ready, which was in quite fast succession so nobody was left waiting too long (though we were all having a try of each other’s anyway). The lasagne al forno was first up, bubbling away and smothered in gooey cheese. The ragu sauce had a wonderful depth of flavour and the balance of pasta, sauce and cheese was perfect for us… enough sauce to mop up with bread after.

Our other pasta dish was taglioni with lobster. The taglioni was delicious on its own, with a tomato sauce that was obviously specially made for fish dishes – completely different to the beefy lasagne ragu. When we dug the lobster meat out of the tail and had this with the pasta it made me glad we had chosen this dish. The sweet lobster meat retained its flavour within the dish and lived up to expectations.

The main event was the mixed grill for two that soon followed the pasta. We had seen it being prepared on Celebrity Masterchef, and when we saw it on the specials menu we had to give it a try. Wow. The Italian sausages, lamb cutlets and rib eye steaks arrived on a large board with a fresh courgette side dish and we dug in fast. Everything had so much flavour! There was more than enough for the three of us to enjoy. We even ended up mopping up the juices on the board with our bread, and this showed the layers of flavour that had gone into the dish… vinegary and oily and meaty all together. Mmmm.
(If you are expecting a photo - I did take one but it has come out really badly. If you have a good one share below!)

Yes, there was still room for dessert. As they had Mum’s favourite affogato on the menu she went straight for that, whilst Dad and I kept on with the sharing dishes and ordered the sharing dessert, a selection of miniature desserts from across the menu. The affogato arrived as a scoop of ice cream alongside amaretto liquor and a pot of espresso, both of which are poured over the ice cream making a dish that mixes cool and creamy with warm and strong flavours.

The sharing dessert had fruity and chocolately treats in bite sized portions. My favourite was the pannacotta and berry couli shot, though all the pastries and cakes were delicious. There was no need to order a separate dessert wine (which I usually like to do) as we were served a small measure of Marsala as part of the dish too.

And so we left. Filled to the brim and discussing our next visit which will definitely be taking advantage of the pizza oven at the back of the room. Throughout our meal we enjoyed the atmosphere in the restaurant, which was busy but not rushed….a gentle buzz of activity in the background. Having now eaten a meal in the restaurant and a drink up at the bar on different occasions we have noticed how attentive the staff are. This makes the experience so much more enjoyable as everything keeps in a free flowing vein, where you relax and concentrate on the people you are with rather than what is going on around you. Maybe on visit three I will finally tuck into the Calabrese pizza I've had my eye on for a while now!

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