Owners of the ever-popular Caldesi and Caffé Caldesi in London, Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi have branched out of the capital with their latest venture. Suki King reports
It's a brave restaurateur who chooses to open in the village that's home to two of the UK's three three-Michelin-starred restaurants (the Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn), not to mention one of the country's finest gastropubs (the Hinds Head). But that's exactly what Giancarlo Caldesi and his wife, Katie, have done.
The couple, who are behind the much-loved Caldesi and Caffé Caldesi on London's Marylebone Lane, opened Caldesi in Campagna at the end of September with the aim of bringing Bray something completely different - in the shape of a rustic Italian restaurant.
"This is undoubtedly the hardest challenge I have ever faced, because a restaurant in Bray has to offer really great food or people won't bother to visit," Giancarlo says. "But I am also loving this challenge and believe we will be a big success, as we are offering an alternative to what's already available."
While the cuisine of the restaurant may be rustic Italian, its interiors, designed by Katie in collaboration with Schemes Interior Design, are 21st-century chic, with biscuit-coloured walls and plush beige furnishings. There are 60 seats for diners, with a further 10 in a bar area and 20 on an outside terrace during the summer months.
Against this backdrop, Giancarlo, supported by a seven-strong kitchen brigade, offers a regularly changing menu that draws on Liguria, Tuscany and Sicily for inspiration and tends to offer five starters, four pasta dishes, six main courses, and four or five desserts.
"We are finding we need to change the menu regularly because some locals are visiting us three or four times a week and we need to offer them something new each time they come," Giancarlo explains.
Pan-fried sea scallops wrapped in pancetta with white wine, leek mousse and a coral ragù (£12) and a selection of Tuscan salami, pecorino cheese and preserves (£9.50) are among recent starters, while popular mains include calves' liver with butter and sage served with seasonal vegetables (£17.50) and monkfish, king prawns, clams and mussels with tomatoes, garlic and chilli (£21).
Home-made lasagne with beef, pork ragù and porcini mushrooms (£10) is the top-selling pasta option, a rich and robustly flavoured dish made from a recipe handed down to Giancarlo by his grandmother. At dessert, meanwhile, Tuscan plum tart with amaretto and mascarpone cream (£7) is a typical choice.
The restaurant is attracting an average of 300 diners a week, with customers coming from a wide catchment area, including Bray, Windsor, Ascot, Maidenhead, Slough and London. And already a smattering of local celebrities are among the regulars: "Rolf Harris has visited us, and Chris Rea has been in six times so far," says Giancarlo.
The introduction of cookery classes from February will be among initiatives at the restaurant in the new year, he adds.
What's on the menu
- Crab and avocado salad with lemon and tarragon dressing, £10
- Steamed asparagus with poached egg and black truffle, £10.50
- Warm slices of roast pork stuffed with Italian herbs, served with salad leaves and green lentils, £9
- Home-made ravioli stuffed with sea bass in lemon butter sauce, £10/£12
- Tagliolini with truffle, £12/£15
- Tortelloni with mozzarella and aubergine, £8.50/£10.50
- Chargrilled fillet of sea bass with new potatoes, artichokes and cherry tomatoes, £19.50
- Braised leg of rabbit in red wine sauce and thyme with truffle polenta, £18.50
- Veal parcel with porcini mushrooms and truffle pecorino cheese, £19
- Amaretto panna cotta with roasted plums, £7
- Doughnut sticks with Strega crème pâtissière and blackberry and sambuca jam, £7
- Selection of cheeses, walnut bread, grapes and honey, £9
Away from the stove
"I went to Scotts in London's Mayfair recently and the whole experience was great," says Giancarlo. "The refurbishment is beautiful and the hubbub of the place is what makes it so special."
Caldesi in Campagna, Old Mill Lane, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2BG. Tel: 01628 788500 www.caldesi.com