Italians do it better
If Gucci did Italian food, it would look like this. Muddy eats at Caldesi in Campagna, Bray.
I’m just going to put it out there. I really liked this restaurant – the exterior is grand but not ostentatious. Swing open the door and the dim lighting pulls you in to perch at the bar or settle in for a leisurely meal. It feels homely yet special. The hospitality, the warmth, the passion for food, love for family – it’s all very Italian, and that’s the vibe you get at Caldesi’s.
There have been a few significant changes during its makeover. A bar area has been created. The lush tan, button-backed banquettes make the perfect spot for a cocktail or beer and a light snack whether you are just passing or enjoying pre-dinner drinks. The restaurant dining room is split into three zones – each has a slightly different feel. The front is a light, bright, people-watching haven. The middle is darker, cosier – if you were having a secret affair (is there any other kind?) this would be the spot. At the back you have the buzzy conservatory. Perfect for parties, but I imagine a raucous atmosphere on a Saturday night.
It’s really stylish – the muted coffee and cream interiors have gone, and now dreamy dark blue walls, super-expensive linen wallpaper and eclectic artworks and knick knacks take this place from restaurant to Tuscan home. I love the memory boxes on the walls created by Katie. Each tells a different story: One has Giancarlo’s Cavaliere – like an MBE it was awarded by the Italian Government for his work in promoting Italian food abroad, others have have family spoons, sieves and religious crosses displayed.
The menu, mostly Tuscan, is an absolute beaut with typical Italian flair – simple but exquisite dishes including slow cooked calamari with tomato, garlic and chilli sauce; sea bass ravioli, and pan fried calf’s liver with garlic and sage. Come to Mama! The a la carte is classic Italian with antipasti, pasta, fish, meat and side choices. There’s also an excellent set lunch menu, two courses £22 or three courses for £26.50 – which is pretty reasonable for the quality of the cooking.
I went for the slow-cooked South West calamari, tomato, garlic and chilli sauce, toasted garlic bread. the sauce was rich, the squid was soft rather than rubbery, with a hunk of homebred bread to mop up. Yum. I couldn’t resist sticking my gilded fork in to Mr MS’s Grana padano cheese soufflé, tomato concise’ and basil oil. Now if there’s a dish that tastes like Tuscan sunshine, this is it. OMG. It is heaven on a plate.
My main of pan-fried veal wallet with pecorino cheese and porcini mushrooms sauce was so good I just couldn’t bring myself to share (or take a pic in focus). But OH was hogging his wild boar and polenta (sooo selfish), but at least we got a decent pic of it. Staggeringly simple, but impeccable ingredients and utterly delicious. This really is top class cooking. Not many restaurants have the confidence to plate up dishes like these. But that’s the beauty of Italian cooking – very few ingredients but all impeccable quality and cooked to perfection.
Not that we really had room for much more, but we couldn’t leave without trying Giancarlo’s tiramisu with Vin Santo. We decided to share. Big mistake. HUGE! It was the right side of sweet for me so I was tempted to arm wrestle for the other half. Creamy, a little boozy and light. It was perfection. Tiramisu can be a bit claggy and heavy handed on the alcohol (god, is there really such a thing? Yes there is), but the Vin Santo makes this dish.
I think older children would absolutely be welcomed with open arms. There’s lots of things on the menu my kids would eat. That said, I’m not sure I would splash the cash to feed my boys a fancy meal they might not appreciate (miserable old bag that I am) – but it deserves to be appreciated. So ditch the ankle biters and enjoy an intimate dinner date with the other half, girlie get togethers or get the gang out for a special occasion. They are experts in extended gatherings, so big family dos, anniversaries, 40th birthdays etc. they take in their stride.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Couples dining a deux, girlie get togethers, business lunches and special occasions – this is Michelin quality, destination dining. Say hello to Tuscany on Thames.
Not for: Anyone looking for casual, inexpensive dining, There’s no getting around it, the menu is expensive. Although the set lunch is good value. The quality of the cooking however cannot be denied.
The damage: The bar menu starts at £2.50 for sale fave beans to £12.50 for a steak salad. The a la carte menu: antipasti from £12.50; pasta from £14.50; Fish from £26.50 and Meat courses start at £26.50. Martini or aperol spritz £8.50 a glass with bottles of wine starting at £20..
Caldesi in Campagna, Old Mill Lane, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2BG. Tel: 01628 788500. caldesi.com/caldesi-in-campagna