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Caldesi in Campagna at Bray - Restaurant review

PUBLISHED: 15:37 15 June 2016

A sumptuous seafood taste sensation (Photo by Maureen McLean)

A sumptuous seafood taste sensation (Photo by Maureen McLean)

Maureen McLean

Picture this: there were more than a few surprises when Jan Raycroft and Maureen McLean visited Caldesi in Campagna at Bray

Ignore the gossip, we are (mostly) mistresses of discretion if nothing else here at Berkshire & Buckinghamshire Life. A classic example would be the surreptitious way in which we photograph dishes in restaurants and pubs, even though Maureen McLean lugs around a car boot-load of specialist equipment and paraphernalia to sort out technical stuff the editor doesn’t need to understand, well that’s my story anyway.

The diners seated nearest to us rarely spot this photographic wizardry – out comes the camera then it’s click-click-click and away again out of sight – unless Maureen feels obliged to slap away my fingers from some delicacy that’s arrived at the table before she has finished capturing it for posterity.

I’m sharing this with you because an extraordinary thing happened when we visited Caldesi in Campagna, the ultimate Italian fine dining experience at Bray. For the first time in the five years plus we’ve been eating and drinking our way round the counties, a fellow diner apologetically approached from a table across the way and asked if HE could take a photograph of what had just been placed in front of Maureen.

The chap and his companion had just come to the end of their feast with no room for more and then spotted our arriving tiramisu. Ah, you say, come on…. tiramisu is well, tiramisu. Not here it isn’t. This is Tiramisu al Vin Santo, Giancarlo Caldesi’s version with Vin Santo and served in a large cocktail glass. Just look at it in our photo over the page, you’ll want to take a photo yourself! Better still, go there and leave some room for a final course.

Caldesi in Campagna is, of course, the treasured restaurant opened in 2007 by Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi. They also run the highly successful Caffé Caldesi in Marylebone and their Italian cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi. It was no surprise when the Caldesis were deserved winners of our Food & Drink Awards ‘Heroes’ plaudit in 2015.

Add in the cookbooks, TV appearances and Giancarlo being honoured in his homeland for services to promoting Italian gastronomy abroad, and the recipe is complete. Well nearly, because during our visit we had a sneak preview of the latest book (the focus is on salads and what beautiful, colourful salads they are) due out shortly. They even used our visit to ‘test drive’ some of the recipes so we can vouch for that fact that this will be another winner.

But back to the treats we like to photograph, and we could have filled this issue with an album of superb courses arriving from the kitchen 
overseen by Head Chef Gregorio Piazza. He’s been with the Caldesi mini-empire since a teenager in one role or another, and was very instrumental in them achieving two AA rosettes, they say. There’s no doubt that he shares their passion for sustainable and seasonal produce, and it has to be fresh, fresh, fresh.

We described this at the start as an experience, not just lunch or dinner, and it certainly is, right from when restaurant manager Vincenzo di Monda and his team welcome you to premises which somehow manage to be intimate and airy at the same time. Caldesi in Campagna is based in what was once a pub so is not huge. Even so, there’s plenty of space between tables and the rear dining area opens up into a pretty garden area ideal for al fresco dining when the weather permits. Somehow it manages to give off a homely air while sparkling cutlery and immaculate furniture remind you that this is somewhere special.

From the moment an amuse bouche arrives – it was swordfish carpaccio during our visit – you realise this is going to be a special occasion. Attempting to list dishes of note is difficult as we could reprint the whole menu, but from the antipasti list a word or two must go to the Tortini di Grana Padana, a perfect cheese soufflé with tomato concassé and basil oil. And if it’s being offered when you visit, look out for the ricotta and lemon tart with grilled asparagus and roasted tomato dressing.

The first class Italian journey continues with pasta dishes such as Pappardelle alla garfagnana, a rich feast featuring slow cooked pork and beef, soffritto, red wine and porcini mushroom ragù. Although you might take a pasta ‘detour’ with Cornish crab and tagliolini.

Carrying on the fishy theme, it has to be said that seafood is an area in which the restaurant excels. You will not need reminding that this is fine dining, but the amazing Grigliata Caldesi needs to be included in someone’s courses during a visit. It features (deep breath) grilled king prawn, fillet of gilt head sea bream, Cornish mackerel, and South West squid with chilli, garlic and salad leaves.

Meat lovers won’t look on too enviously though, as everything from roasted guinea fowl to best Scottish sirloin, new season lamb and calf’s liver are given Italian styling, and crisp but somehow still melt-in-the-mouth veg accompaniments are delivered looking like they too have visited a foodie designer.

All of this and then you get to the amazing desserts, ‘bursting out of their dresses’ with oozing chocolate fondant and berries and even Italian style doughnuts with vanilla custard and berry sauce. Plus, of course, at the end you are guaranteed the finest coffee from world experts. We need to go back and take some more photographs of dishes we didn’t eat!

This is fine dining and perfect for a special occasion. Even so, the set lunch menu is a fine place to begin with a first visit and good value at £19.50 for two courses, £24.50 for three plus service. Head for the a la carte menu and you can push the boat out for around £45 to £60 per person, plus service and drinks. We’re going to say that word ‘experience’ again as it’s hard to put a price on that.

The restaurant opens Tuesday to Saturday, 12-4pm and 6-11pm, plus 12-4pm Sunday.

Find out more – and about the cookery classes – at caldesi.com.

The restaurant is in Old Mill Lane Bray, SL6 2BG, tel 01628 788500.

More restaurants…

Waterside dining in Berkshire: 8 pubs and restaurants - Katy Eachus selects her top Berkshire spots to enjoy eating and drinking while watching the world float by

Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill Windsor - Restaurant review - Sometimes we like to imagine the ‘nightmare party’ arriving at a restaurant for a gathering. All very nice people, of course.

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