Posted by: lucylastic | September 25, 2007

Food for thought – it doesn’t get much better!

How long is it since you’ve had a truly memorable meal?  What makes a truly memorable meal anyway?  The food itself, the company, the location, the ambience, the expectations?  Probably a bit of all of these.  So when my lovely husband and I travelled to Bray on Thames last Saturday evening for dinner at Caldesi in Campagna, the stakes were high.  Some of you may have heard of the Caldesi’s – Giancarlo and his English wife, Katie – they featured in a series shown on BBC2 last year called ‘Return to Tuscany’, which related their ups and downs as they tried to establish a summer cookery school at Hotel Rotelle in Giancarlo’s native Tuscany.  I loved the series, but more, I loved Giancarlo – he came across as such a genuinely caring and committed person – his drive to be successful at any odds touched a deep-rooted seam in me, but I also sympathised with those around him who sometimes had to pick up the pieces!  The fact that Giancarlo and Katie were living MY dream of owning a Tuscan cookery school only spurred me on some more.  The school they devised was very similar to the one I have imagined for many years, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve when mine finally goes live, (don’t hold your breath, it’ll be a few years yet) but it was fascinating to see how 2 professional chefs went about it.  And the Caldesi’s are no novices – they already own and run a very successful café, restaurant and cookery school in London – so they have a head start in terms of knowing what they’re doing – not least how to cook properly!  You can see more about their business on http://www.caldesi.com/ 

So, back to Saturday evening – our expectations were high, Caldesi in Campagna opened for business on September 1st, but Saturday was the ‘official’ opening and a number of press were invited, (though I didn’t recognise anyone, I had been hoping for AA Gill or maybe Philippa Davenport – but they were not to be seen).  If you don’t know it, Bray is quite a posh place, The Fat Duck, of Heston Blumenthal fame is there, as is the Waterside Inn and the famous Monkey Island Hotel, (where, incidentally, my sister got married a few years ago – beautiful place).  I had already imagined that the location would be pleasant – and the long, low building didn’t disappoint.  The restaurant is essentially an inverted ‘T’ shape, with smaller tables at the front, (in the crossbar of the ‘T’) and larger ones in the middle or in a very stylish conservatory.  The décor is low key, muted tones of brown, cream, beige and polished wood.  Tasteful photographs adorn the walls in places, but it’s not too overwhelming – rather the impression is light and airy and the tables are nicely spaced.  I hate being cramped!!!!  We were offered a glass of Prosecco ‘on the house’ when we arrived and were also shown around by a member of staff.  There is a small courtyard outside, where Giancarlo himself was sitting talking to a couple of people, but he broke off to greet us and to shake hands, which turned out to be typical of his personality and is very much a feature of the restaurant.  A number of guests were already making return visits, which I took to be a good sign and the menu was short, but sufficiently varied to provide a good choice. 

On to the food then!  For starters, lovely husband and I opted to share an Antipasto Misto and a portion of Tortellini stuffed with sea bass and spinach.  The Antipasto were served with a good variety of home-made breads and olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping and consisted of a number of different sliced meats, olives, pickled shallots and Mediterranean style roast vegetables – 9/10.  I knew we were onto something good though when I sampled the Tortellini – I have to admit I am not a huge pasta fan – but these were good enough to convert me – I could eat them every day for the rest of my life I think.  Melt in the mouth, home-made pasta with delicately seasoned sea bass and tender spinach, coated in a buttery sauce with a few herbs.  Divine!!!!  10/10, and if I could give more, I would!  The main courses were also fabulous.  I chose Veal served with Pecorino cheese and truffle sauce – tender, well flavoured, very nicely accompanied by a Chianti Reserva recommended by the staff.  Lovely husband chose Sea Bass – quite an unusual departure for him – but it was a brilliant decision – firm but still milky in texture, more truffles on the top and a tomato sauce that was so sweet and fragrant it almost defies description.  The one small note of criticism is that we had to wait a good 5 minutes for our vegetables – by this time, the restaurant was full and I think they just got forgotten – the sauté potatoes were very well cooked – fluffy inside, crispy outside – and went well with both the veal and fish.  The grilled aubergine, artichoke and pepper mix was a tad overdone and took the edge off a bit.  Overall 8/10 for the main. 

In the interests of research and being properly thorough, we thought it only right that we sample desserts as well.  As I told Giancarlo, “I want to marry the man who made the Pannacotta”, well, I would if I wasn’t already so blissfully wed!!  The Pannacotta had a delightful wobble – hard to achieve in my experience and came topped with a spun sugar ‘net’ and a piquant cherry sauce.  Lovely husband’s Chocolate Tart with Poached Pears was declared ‘just perfect’.  Not too sweet, not too bitter, not too sticky – just perfect!  And the two glasses of chilled Moscato wine were a perfect way to wash it down – scores for dessert – 15/10 at least!!!  Superb.  I meant to check the exact brand of dessert wine, because it too was lovely, light, sweet enough, but not too sweet and I would like to get some to serve at Christmas Dinner.  It’s a great excuse to go back and check!!!! 

Last, but not least was a cup of espresso.  I am really NOT a very frequent coffee drinker, but it seemed right to finish the meal with this most typical of Italian coffees and the very new machine was just begging to be used. 

To summarise then, I can truthfully say that this was one of the best meals I have ever eaten, anywhere!  I haven’t talked much about Giancarlo himself – his personality is BIG and he’s fun to be around – charming, professional, entertaining and very customer focused, (despite being in obvious pain with a badly swollen foot) and he certainly adds to the overall occasion – but I wanted to assess the restaurant on it’s food alone – after all, he won’t be there every day – what with London and Tuscany commitments to fulfil.  I think Caldesi in Campagna more than holds it own through it’s menu.  The Caldesi’s themselves are the icing on the cake.  Go, if you possibly can.

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Responses

  1. Great review Lucy, makes me really want to go there and try it out.


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