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[Hale Barns, Greater Manchester] San Carlo Fiorentina

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The San Carlo mother ship, in Manchester city centre, has always had a bit of reputation for being a footballers wives sort of place. Now, with this recently opened offshoot at the Manchester Airport Marriott, they don’t have to travel too far from home in Hale or the North Cheshire Golden Triangle.

Like the mother ship, it's all hard surfaces so the overall level of noise can make conversation with the other side of the table quite difficult , if you’re not an accomplished lip reader. Also like the mother ship, there’s a good looking menu that covers all the bases for a reasonably upscale Italian job, but I couldn’t see too much that shouted Florence or, even Tuscany, at me. Service is pretty good, although there’s a tendency to remove odd bits of used glassware or crockery without waiting till a natural break in the meal.

Several of the pastas are available in starter or main course size and I took one from the specials menu (which I bet are the specials every night) to start. Orrecchiette came with cauliflower, broccoli, anchovy and a good whack of chilli. I liked this a lot – good flavours, texture and unusually but pleasantly dry. Chilli also featured in the other starter. Three seared scallops, served on the shell, topped with a chilli sauce. It was fine in the way that seared scallops are always going to be fine.

For main courses, 28 day aged ribeye steak wasn’t Italian but was perfectly fine in the way that a steak is usually going to be fine without being fantastic. There was a good and varied mixed salad to accompany. I’m a fan of calves liver and would never turn down an opportunity to eat it “alla Veneziana. So I didn’t. It was damn good. Thin slices of just cooked meat; lots of long cooked onion melting away; very savoury sauce and two slices of grilled polenta. I took the waiter’s advice and added side orders of sauté potato and steamed spinach.

Desserts were a bit of a game of two halves. Cannolo was a cracker. Big fat tube of pastry stuffed with flavoured ricotta. It looked good but there was no chance of me getting a nibble. My own tiramisu also looked good but, as often with tiramisu, was something of a disappointment. As often, the vital powerful flavours of good coffee and booze were absent. It made it all a bit monodimensionally sweet.

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