The Godfather of Birmingham Dining
Birmingham is spoilt for fabulous dining options, but it was a certain Sicilian back in the nineties who instigated the city’s restaurant evolution. Exclusively for Dine Birmingham, Sanjeeta Bains (pictured, centre) was invited to un buonissimo pranzo with the Godfather of Birmingham’s culinary scene…
[by Sanjeeta Bains]
Chairman of the San Carlo Group, Carlo Distefano (pictured, left) recently opened Venetian tapas restaurant, cocktail bar and late lounge San Carlo Fumo – his second restaurant in Birmingham. Carlo and his sons Alessandro and Marcello – who are part of the family business – had the idea of opening a restaurant serving cicchetti (small dishes from Venice). After plaudits for the first San Carlo Cicchetti in Manchester, Carlo is doing it again at Fumo.
The former hairdresser came to Birmingham and set up his first ever restaurant, San Carlo, in 1992. Carlo tells me,
“People thought I was mad for opening here! But I was very confident that it would work out.”
That’s something of an understatement – San Carlo’s Birmingham success led to twelve more restaurants in the UK. The San Carlo Group is now a multimillion pound international empire with presence in London, Beirut and Bangkok.
Carlo, 69, still calls Birmingham home, living in Barnt Green in the south of the city he praises:
“I cannot say a bad word about this city. How can I?”
When I was a teenager, everyone had their birthday meal at San Carlo. There may be a lot more competition these days, but the Temple Street restaurant is still celebration central. And with the opening of sophisticated Fumo round the corner, Carlo has established his respectable place at the top of the Birmingham food chain. He recently welcomed old friend and famous chef Aldo Zilli (pictured, right) into the business, after he closed his own successful restaurants in London.
Over a glass of prosecco, Aldo, who is now San Carlo Group Consultant and Executive Chef, explains why he is full of respect for Carlo’s achievements:
“Chefs in general don’t really make good restaurateurs. You really care about what’s on the plate, but you can forget about everything else, so your restaurant can fail.”
“Carlo is a true restaurateur; he wants to please. He has a lot of choice for customers and understands the whole experience of feeling special when you’re eating out. People are there for good food, the enjoyment, the fun!”
Dining at San Carlo Fumo certainly feels like an exclusive experience. The ambience is distinctly ‘international jetset’ thanks to the opulent yet elegant interior. When I mention to Carlo how much I love the striking saucer shaped lightshades hanging from the ceiling, he smiles broadly.
“Thank you. I bought them from Israel and they cost me a fortune! But I wanted the restaurant to look different. I don’t like places looking the same. ”
It’s this attention to detail that has made Fumo – and Carlo – so successful. For a truly epicurean dining experience, nobody does it better than Mr. Distefano.
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