San Carlo Bottega – Selfridges, Manchester

I’m not saying it’s my best trait, but I’m known for being slightly, ever so slightly, competitive (slightly? Your uni housemates nicknamed you ‘Monica’ – ed).

If I were to pop psychoanalyse myself (as one does in the wee small hours), I would say this all stems from having a father who, instead of playing family games in a manner which allowed his small children a slight advantage, ruthlessly exploited our weaknesses to completely own whichever board it was we were playing on.

When a challenge is laid down, I’ll take it; hence why when Alessandro DiStefano of the San Carlo Restaurant Group, picked up my last blog post on Cicchetti and then laid down the challenge that if I thought that was good, I’d positively love Bottega, their new opening at Manchester’s Selfridges; I couldn’t say no, could I?

Bottega is an extension of the successful Cicchetti concept; small, tapas style plates to share, that come out when they’re ready. What’s the point of opening another place just like the one down the road (I hear you say)? Bottega’s premise may be similar, but there are differences – instead of purely Italian cuisine, Bottega injects some French-style dishes to the menu, which is great because a) I bloody love French food and b) it makes a change from the raft of like-for-like Italian joints that Manchester is overrun with.
Decor is similar to the pared back opulence and marble found at Cicchetti and San Carlos, but with the most beautiful duck egg blue leather seats looking out over the twinkling lights of Exchange Square. I could take about the bar and the window of Italian produce, but enough of the decor, this is a food blog, so let’s talk food.

Zucchini fritters are always a must and dare I say it, Bottega’s were even better than the ones at Cicchetti (I know!); a super light batter surrounded slightly crunchy veg, all perfectly seasoned (think licking salt off your fingers level of seasoning).

As I said at Cicchetti, if I’d had the San Carlo pizza at any other restaurant, I’d be raving about it, but as everything else we ate was so good, the pizza just because another great dish among many; smokey from the oven, warmth from the chillies and savoury loveliness from the meat on top.

Chicken spiedino, ordered from the specials menu, was a moist, charred and salty skewer of pancetta wrapped chicken, sweet peppers and red onions. A dish of toulouse sausage was served with just an egg to dip in; anything more would have taken away from the sweetness of the fennel and the absolute quality of the sausage. Lemon sole and black shrimp was impeccably cooked, the flesh just off translucent – the shrimps, a spicy hint of mace and a squeeze of lemon kept the dish simple but memorable.
But the star of the night, the dish we are still talking about and the dish I will order every time I go back to Bottega, will be the tuna tartare. You may wonder what can be special about this dish; many places serve it and it doesn’t particularly push gastronomic boundaries, but the classic simplicity and theatre of being served the dish is why it’s so magic.
Frederico, tartare king


Tuna tartare at Bottega goes something like this; the waiting staff bring a sliver platter and set it up next to your table. Upon the platter they place a bottle of tabasco, a lemon, some oil, some balsamic, some salt and some pepper. And they leave you with that for a moment. You wait, you muse, you eat some more zucchini.

Tuna tartare – dish of my dreams

A plate is then brought to you; tuna, rocket, onion, caper, mustard and red onion – you are shown all of the finely chopped ingredients and you are asked if you like all of them (you can create your tartare to your exact tastes, adding or leaving out any of the ingredients you wish). Ingredient inspection over, your waiter expertly mixes everything, stopping to show you each step; an understated spectacle.

And then the dish is placed between you, you eat it, the balance of flavours is so exact and so clean you can’t say anything and you don’t. Tip, ask for Frederico to serve this dish to you. He’s a master.

I ate all these

We finished with pudding, three of them between the two of us, for research purposes of course. If you like pannacotta, eat the Bottega one, I swear it’s made with the creamiest cream you can cream off a cow. The rum baba is also worth a mention for sheer 70’s nostalgia of puddings lovingly created for me by my grandma; light, boozy, making me feel like a happy little child (but don’t eat the vanilla cream on top, a little too sweet and overbalances the dish somewhat).

Throughout the evening we’d been cossetted by very friendly staff. Like their other restaurants, San Carlo has invested heavily in customer service and it shows. Professional, knowledgeable, slightly cheeky and nowhere near dour, the staff made our evening.

I accepted the challenge to like Bottega and I can unequivocally say that I do. The decor is beautiful without being OTT, the staff are so friendly they make you feel like family, the food is spot on and the inclusion of french dishes is an inspiration, truly making Bottega stand out from the crowd. The only downsides? They’d run out of cassolet (my favourite dish bar a bouillabaisse) and they only open till 8pm – they have to close when Selfridges does. Just means I’ll have to have some ‘long lunches…’

Now, which one do I prefer – Bottega or Cicchetti. Not sure I’ll ever be able to decide (obviously needs more ‘research’ – ed).

Dishes are Bottega are priced between £6 and £12, you need about six between two people with health appetites, but could get away with one pizza for a light-ish lunch.
Food – 8/10
Service – 9/10
Atmosphere – 7/10
Value for money – 8/10
Total – 32/40

Go again – yes. As with Cicchetti, I plan to become a regular and maybe even just move in.

Bottega, 2nd Floor Selfridges, 1 Exchange Square, Manchester M3 1BD – Twitter

Please note, I was invited to Bottega, they knew I was there and my food was free – however as with any freebie, I mark harder than if I’ve paid and you know me, I’ll tell you when something is rubbish.