I started the last paragraph of with the phrase 'seen in the right light', so what other light is there? Where I was perhaps disappointed in the experience is that the proprietor/chef Giancarlo Caldesi has a cooking school in the UK (at the back of the restaurant), had a cooking school in Tuscany (2005-2009) and has just opened a restaurant in Bray (Caldesi in Campagna), which made me think that Caldesi would be and should be a real food destination. Sadly it didn't live up to that notion, the quality of the food just isn't there to make it the go-to Italian in London.
The question then becomes, given their price point how do they fare? The answer is, probably reasonably well, but even here we have a few small caveats that we'll come on to shortly. Our recent trip to Zafferano highlighted some incredible Italian cooking but our bill was a lot lot higher so it's not a fair comparison.
Admittedly, at Caldesi, we did eat in the cafe-bar downstairs and not the finer dining restaurant upstairs that I was told 'had a more extensive menu' and I believe a more formal service. Nevertheless, even with the fine dinig option, we find it hard to believe that it could elevate itself to the levels of Zafferano given the food that we sampled downstairs, the kitchen is afterall the same for both. To be fair however, we didn't try the upstairs so I'm only surmising this point.
Our overall take then is that 'you pay your money and take your choice' as they say. This was a hearty meal with lots of food and a pretty reasonable bill at the end, but the food was okay rather than great. Most likely dish selection is everything and if you get a 'full house' of what they do best on the menu, you'll likely leave happy. The reverse is also true.
Moving onto the food, the starter was Fritto misto - deep fried calamari, white bait, and prawn with lemon and green salad. I had been told before going there that the pasta's good but beware of non pasta dishes and this seafood dish was certainly the disappointment of the evening. The calamari could have been quite frankly anything, having little to no taste and a modest chewiness and a batter that had the texture and taste of cardboard. The prawns were similar with no real essence to them. In a blind tasting, you'd be hard pressed to guess either of these items, you'd probably struggle to guess that they were seafood. The whitebait meanwhile did have a lot of seafood flavour but that was more pungent than fresh and caused me to wince occassionally while eating. There was a lot of food on this plate but none of it good; we're disappointed that the kitchen is sending this out. Surely this is not what his school is teaching would be chefs on how to prepare sea-food? Remembering what I had been told, I let this go and hoped the pasta would be an improvement and to be fair, it was.
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