We arrived at Caffè San Carlo for our 3:30 reservation, the place was empty except for a few people enjoying a drink while reading the paper. The first thing I thought was, “I hope you don’t plan on sleeping tonight”.
Let me explain, our reservation was for the Merenda Reale (literally meaning royal snack), it’s sort of like afternoon tea for the Brits but different. In the 1700’s between 2 and 10 pm, the aristocratic society would indulge in cups of drinking chocolate and dunkable cookies and pastries made by palace chefs. all the while getting high on sugar and caffeine.
And so on this day we would be indulging like aristocrats on this royal snack and since caffeine in the late afternoon usually means no sleep for us, we knew what to expect that night.
Opened in 1822, Caffè San Carlo became a hangout for intellectuals and reformists. It closed several times during the Italian Wars of Independence because of the subversive activities of its customers and was also severely damaged during WWII. It underwent an extensive restoration that lasted ten years (1953 to 1963). Other than a few frescoes, everything had been destroyed. It’s hard to imagine that only a small part of what we were looking at was original.
In my usual spot
We sat on the far side, Tim with his back against the wall and me in my usual spot, across the table. We were both able to admire the huge chandelier hanging in the middle of the ceiling as there are large mirrors all along the walls so no matter where you sit, you have a great view of the whole room.
Our server immediately came to see us and quickly explained what would ensue. To start he brought us a bicerin, Turin’s specialty coffee drink comprised of a shot of espresso, topped with chocolate (without milk) and finished with cold whisked milk (in some instances it is served with cold whisked cream).
Our first course would be typical Piemontese cookies including savoiardi (lady fingers) and baci di dama (two small cookies held together with chocolate).
Already feeling the effects of too many cookies and bicerin, our second course arrived. A large shortbread cookie and two slices of baguette topped with a thick slathering of what I thought was mascarpone but after closer inspection turned out to be fresh butter.
After a short chat, our server asked us, of the three ingredients in the bicerin, chocolate, coffee and whisked milk, which was our favourite. Tim answered chocolate and I answered coffee. Without saying a word, he was off only to return a few minutes later with two small glasses, one with a shot of coffee and the other, you guessed it, chocolate.
We thought this was the end of it but here he came with two more plates. This time it was mini amaretti cookies, gianduiotto, the inverted boat-shaped chocolate made with hazelnuts and, cri-cri, which is a chocolate coated hazelnut covered in tiny sugar ball candy.
Although everything was amazing and we were loving all the treats, there was no way we could finish it all without our nervous system getting frazzled so we took a few more bites and sips. I slipped some chocolates into my bag and off we went buzzing into the night.
Disclosure: We were hosted by Turismo Torino, the opinions in this post are our own.