San Carlo’s New Refurb Will Make You Want to Go Out

A project that was challenging for even the builders involved, San Carlo has reopened in Liverpool and the new interiors have old, Italian villa glam written all over it.
San Carlo’s New Refurb Will Make You Want to Go Out

From the beginning, the goal was clear: “The best kind of restaurants are the ones where you’ve finished dinner and you don’t want to leave,” shares Marcello Distefano, San Carlo’s Managing Director. Although the restaurant is located on Castle Street, one of Liverpool’s biggest streets, filled with places to eat and drink. So, when you have that many choices nearby, this brief comes with its challenges.

Nothing too challenging for Andy Goodwin, Co-Founder of Fettle, and his team to take on though. Fettle is a well-established and highly acclaimed interior design studio based in Shoreditch, whose work has filled spaces throughout London, Munich, LA, and New York. When working with Marcello, the team envisioned a space where guests could linger, relishing every moment spent within the restaurant’s walls.

A look inside San Carlo

For San Carlo, they pushed boundaries and went beyond their previous projects, focusing on layering various elements to achieve a multi-dimensional ambience. As you look around the restaurant, it feels like an art piece in and of itself. The true magic here lies in the effortless fusion of artwork, lighting, textiles, and patterns. “There’s probably four times more lighting in this project than you physically need to light the space”, he laughs, “but certainly, in the evening, we wanted to create an ambience so that everything can be dimmed.”

this is a look inside of San Carlo from the entrance this is a picture showing the seating area around the bar in San Carlo, Liverpool

With approximately 450 lights scattered throughout the restaurant, they achieved a multi-dimensional effect throughout the space. One of the standout lighting features at San Carlo is the bespoke blown glass chandeliers, “we took inspiration from the glass hand-blown Murano techniques from the 1930s in Venice,” shares Andy. In addition to the chandeliers, custom-made wall lights and table lamps helped add the finishing touches—of artistry and sophistication—to the restaurant. As we toured the restaurant, we were taken to the private dining space and greeted by a giant petal-shaped chandelier inspired by the designs of renowned architect Gio Ponti.

While lighting may be a small background detail for some, it’s a key element that can make or break a restaurant. Here it’s the latter, the layered lighting fixtures are set perfectly to enhance the luxurious and inviting atmosphere of the restaurant. Throughout the space, the walls have been covered in vibrant artwork that does more than just catch your eye—you feel inclined to look and contemplate it. “Instead of settling for just prints”, says Andy, “we’ve added original artwork that adds another texture, it adds warmth.”

At this point of our interview, we knew this team would do nothing less than exceptional, and it shows. The layout and choice of materials were carefully chosen to make visitors feel comfortable throughout the day, whether they were enjoying breakfast, lunch, or dinner. “I was laughing with the guys the other day, and I said can you believe that you come in here and have a spaghetti bolognese and a piece of margarita?” says Marcello, and he’s right. These home comforts play a huge role in making San Carlo feel as comfortable as it does luxurious as it does aspirational—quite the balance to strike.

this is a picture of the seating booths inside San Carlo, Liverpool

On the topic of food, we were curious to find out how much has stayed on the menu since the first opening back in 1992. “Our menu has stood the test of time,” shares Marcello, “with 80% of its offerings remaining unchanged then.” Classic dishes like calamari, various pasta options, Milanese, and steaks have remained staples on the menu, catering to the tastes of loyal customers who return time and time again. While the menu has evolved slightly over the years, the focus on maintaining the classics speaks to the enduring quality and appeal of San Carlo.

With a beautiful open bar, San Carlo offers the perfect setting to savour a drink and enjoy the night. This concept caters to San Carlo’s loyal customer base, ensuring a memorable experience. When it comes to the design process, collaboration played a significant role in making San Carlo what it is today. Working with the talented artist Jessalyn Brooks, known for her youthful and dynamic pieces, the team found a perfect fit for their vision. Jessalyn’s approach and the vibrant colour palettes of her artwork bring a lively energy to the space. What sets her work apart is its visual impact and how it adapts to the surroundings, “Jessalyn hand-paints the artwork on site by herself, which means the murals truly become part of the room,” shares Andy.

Now, to get San Carlo feeling as luxurious as it does today, there were obstacles on the way. “The site is huge,” says Andy, “It’s three times bigger downstairs than upstairs back of house, which can cause problems… It’s the level of details [of the space] that, even now, you probably can’t see, but loads of parts need finishing.” However, despite all efforts to complete everything, the team ran out of time. “We will get it done, but even the builders are saying that this is one of the most detailed jobs they have done!”

this is a picture of inside San Carlo in Liverpool showing the large dining area with bespoke fittings and lighting this is a look inside the private dining area in San Carlo, Liverpool

Naturally, when most of the interiors are bespoke, from the banquette seating to the chandeliers and even the dining chairs, every element is meticulously chosen, which often requires long lead times and collaboration with artisans and craftsmen across the globe. While challenging, the end result is a space that exudes timeless luxury, built to withstand the test of time. There is nothing quite like San Carlo in Liverpool, and we were curious if that threw up any challenges for the team that they’ve otherwise not faced in other locations. “The language barrier,” says Andy and quickly begins to laugh, “you fell for it!”

Luckily, with his northern roots, Andy and his team were fully prepared to take on this challenge and design a space that reflected the city’s glam personality. “From the beginning, I wanted something glamorous for Liverpool and a place where people feel special, where it’s worth spending ages getting ready and to have a great night out in… I think we achieved that.” I think we’d have to agree, see you at the bar?

*Disclaimer: San Carlo kindly gifted us a lunch to support this review of their Liverpool restaurant.

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