Rosalind Sack visits Bray in Berkshire, to discover Caldesi in Campagna – the Italian jewel in the crown of the village’s famed culinary scene…
Few foodies will have failed to notice the waves made in the world of gastronomy by the chefs packed into one small and extremely pretty Thames-side village in Berkshire. Bray has most certainly reached the upper echelons of culinary excellence with the likes of Heston Blumenthal and the Roux brothers choosing to set up shop there, and reaping a host of plaudits in so doing.
Tucked away from the high street on a leafy road that leads over the river you will find Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s Caldesi in Campagna which, while it may not enjoy the same limelight as its budget-busting neighbours The Fat Duck or The Waterside Inn, should be high up on the must-visit list. Opened in 2007 and specialising in seasonal Italian food made with local produce, here the welcome is not just warm but positively balmy – much like the shores from which its menu, and head chef, hails.
I was lucky enough to visit on a Friday night when the restaurant was hosting visiting chefs Daniele Sera and Michele Raggi from the five-star Castello di Casole – A Timbers Resort, in Tuscany. Lucky for two reasons; firstly because the food was quite simply exquisite; secondly, because it meant that Giancarlo and Katie were off kitchen duty and front of house extending their warm Italian welcome – and I thoroughly enjoyed their company.
The decor is a fairly modest affair with a neutral colour palette and a crackling log fire – they let the food do the talking here. And what a sound it makes! The menu was devised by chefs Daniele and Michele, together with Giancarlo, and it was a triumph.
After a beautiful bite-sized arancini appetiser I tucked into cheese soufflé with tomato concassé and basil oil for starter. Made from the Italian Grana Padano cheese, similar to Parmigiarno, this was bursting with flavour – as were the vine-ripe tomatoes. The soufflé was perfectly delivered and remained moist enough to be rich and creamy and utterly delightful.
I chose the sea bass ravioli with lemon butter sauce for the pasta course which was, again, beautifully cooked and delivered. It’s easy to be fooled by a dish like this, as it seems so simple. But, make no mistake, it takes some skill. The balance of flavours was perfect – I could taste every single ingredient. Secondi was rack of lamb with porcini mushroom crust, potato cream and sauteed baby carrots, which was like a little bomb bursting with intense and delicious flavours.
I couldn’t resist the dessert offerings – I rarely can – so I opted to try two of my favourite Italian classics; tiramisu and panna cotta. I was intrigued to find that these each had a unique twist – the tiramisu came with a crunchy coffee granita, while the smooth and creamy vanilla panna cotta (rectangular in shape, rather than round!) was served with shards of white chocolate, fig and a beautifully rich chocolate sauce.
No culinary pilgrimage to Bray should be without a trip to Caldesi in Campagna. Here you will find Italian food at its finest with hospitality to match… you don’t even have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy its charms!