San Carlo, Temple Street

My other half and I don’t make a big deal of our anniversary – 11 years in case you were wondering – but we usually remember it with at least a couple of hours to spare. However, this year we both forgot until about 4.30pm.

Guilt-ridden we felt we needed to put it right, so we hastily slipped into something less comfortable and headed into town. A cocktail was in order to kick off proceedings, so we headed to Fumo for a sharpener. I like Fumo. It’s the sort of place that sets the tone for a top evening. For a start the lighting is flattering, so everybody looks gorgeous and there’s a buzz about the bar which makes you feel you’re in for a good night. Italian pocket rocket Aldo Zilli occasionally pops up flamboyantly rustling up pasta before your very eyes. It didn’t happen on this occasion, but we’ve been treated in the past.

NICE TOUCH OR BONKERS?

Then we headed off to San Carlo to immerse ourselves in more Italian flavours. I found the restaurant welcoming and lively in the way that Italians are renowned for. It felt traditional in that sense and not too ‘cool’ which sometimes brings with it an air of arrogance. I found none of that here. Baskets of yellow peppers adorned the stairs, empty wine bottles were lined up at picture rail height and there was a lone lemon sat on our table – a nice touch or bonkers? I wasn’t sure. Mirrored walls made the already large restaurant feel even more spacious and the crisp white cloths and stylish yellow seating added a touch of luxury. The place was heaving and they were turning people away. Apparently the Spring Fair at the NEC does wonders for trade. It was buzzing and noisy – a great first impression. A glass of fizz appeared as if by magic which helped! The menu is one of those that goes on for miles, so making any sort of choice was tricky. Tomato garlic bread also appeared as if by magic so we tucked in while we deliberated. We finally plumped for our starters and when they arrived we regretted eating quite so much garlic bread. The portions were large. The chicken liver parfait was very tasty and would have been even better if it wasn’t quite so cold. I chose Gamberoni Luciana – a handful of delicious juicy prawns cooked in a tomato and cream sauce. Lovely. The house white was going down a treat too. We both went meaty for the mains with the other half tucking into a steak with a red wine sauce. It was seriously good. I ordered one of my favourites ¬– Saltimbocca which was perfectly salty, sage-y and tender. We over-ordered our accompaniments hugely. They were all delicious, but the leftovers were like another meal in themselves. Fried zucchini was crisp and light, spinach was fresh and the potatoes were tasty.

UTTERLY CHARMING

We both fancied something refreshing (and small!) for dessert, so asked for our waiter’s opinion who, speaking of which, was utterly charming. He had that canny knack of making every diner feel special despite the place being packed to the rafters. He recommended a dessert of oranges with burnt sugar and split it in two for us. It was the perfect choice, refreshing with just enough sweetness. It sounded simple, but tasted far from it. We left feeling satisfied that the anniversary had been well and truly salvaged. This celebrating malarkey might just become a habit. San Carlo is the sort of restaurant that could become a habit too. There’s a familiarity about it that means your grandma would be just as happy eating here as your teenage nephew. It’s a proper old school Italian that transcends generations and makes for a really good time.

SAN CARLO Subline: 4 Temple St, Birmingham B2 5BN tel: 0121 633 0251 www.sancarlo.co.uk/birmingham