Caffé Caldesi. Hands-on Italian.
Let me confess from the outset, I was comped. That means the meal was complimentary i.e. free i.e. paid for i.e. gratis i.e on the house. Just so you know. In case it wasn’t clear.
I’ve been going to Caffé Caldesi for years. My office used to be around the corner and it was one of my regular haunts, for somewhere reliable and mid-priced. I’d always choose the downstairs, where two courses at £14.50 and three at £17.95 is good value, especially in this part of W1.
Downstairs, my more regular haunt is more casual. I once spotted Bill Nighy there. I found it quite distracting.
Upstairs, where we were on this occasion, is a little more formal and in the evening, slightly more sedate.
The restaurant had a little bit of a refurb in 2013 and is much improved. Soundproofing on the ceiling means that it is less noisy and the room is pleasant, with decent lighting. There is music, which I could live without but the tables are reasonably spaced and you can have a private conversation, should you wish to. I was grateful for that, as I was with my friend M, he of the many tattoos, and I very much suspect that the people on the next table would not necessarily want to hear the latest twists and turns of his personal life or see the eye-opening pictures that he showed me on his iPhone.
I have a strong stomach, however and therefore was quite happy to carry on eating my delicious burrata (a soft creamy mozzarella) with toasted hazelnuts and pomegranate. M decided that he would be adventurous and order smoked venison carpaccio, which he pronounced delicious.
I considered pasta, but gave it a miss, with my sorry attempt at low-carb dining. It’s a shame, though, because I have had the pasta here on many occasions and it is extremely good – they make it on the premises. I’d recommend it.
Really, though, I might as well have sucked spaghetti straight into my face, as low carb was entirely ruined by the very pleasant bottle of wine suggested by the maitre d’, a Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio mix, called “Le Rime”. It would have been rude not to.
So, clinging to the pathetic fallacy of low carb, I ordered a mixed grill of fish. Salmon, turbot and stone bass, accompanied by quite a small portion of crispy tasty rosemary-crusted chips, of which I ate only two. The restraint. The fish also and came with a side dish of crushed basil and olive oil. It was a simple and satisfying dish – one small gripe was that one of the pieces of fish was far too salty. The owner explained that he does salt the fish, to improve the texture and that it was a mistake on the part of the kitchen. He could not have been more apologetic, to the point where I wish I had said nothing.
M had something described as Osso Bucco North and South. It was a braised veal dish, slow-cooked, to the point of falling apart, with a side of creamy firm polenta. A huge portion of a gutsy and flavourful comfort food. The polenta tasted like firm mashed potato.
Then, a little pre-dessert of semifreddo. Creamy and crunchy. And because I really didn’t need by that point, I only ordered a couple of scoops of ice cream for dessert. M, however decided on the Rosemary pannacotta, which was served with a large dome of spun sugar. Unexpectedly elaborate. It was accompanied by little caramelised apple balls. The apple was needed, to balance the flavours – by itself the rosemary with the pannacotta was a slightly unusual combination.
Having eaten in both the bar and the restaurant, I find that I prefer the slightly more informal downstairs area. I like the idea of just being able to pop in for a reasonably-priced bowl of home-made pasta and a glass of wine, topped off by a very decent coffee. It’s a good, solid, reasonably-priced local Italian and there aren’t too many of those to the pound in W1. And you might see Bill. I believe he’s a regular.
Glad you raised the salt thing as you have in some earlier postings. In my experience salting needs a more careful touch than is often given. Apart from the health issue, too much salt covers over the flavour of food, even the best-prepared dish can be harmed when too much or too little is used. E.g., I prefer chips unsalted, but usually they come salted, a liberty that shouldn’t be taken IMO. The best cookery book writers usually emphasize the importance of nicety with salt, e.g. Marcel Boulestin did. But overall this meal sounds very satisfactory and it is good the restaurant took your comment seriously.