Monday, 1 February 2010

Icing on the cake... Caffé Caldesi

Inspired by my fellow food twitters to reach beyond my love affair with wine and dalliance with the discussion on food, I think... no I am, delighted, that my first blog on food should be on Caffé Caldesi in Marylebone Lane.

Having tweeted, twittered and tapped my newfound twitter friends for possible ideas, I was still set on going to Caffé Caldesi for Aunt J’s birthday. (I might add that a kind tweet from Katie Caldesi – she of the caffé – clinched the idea to return. That, and Aunt J’s love of all things Italian and the caffé itself).

My glamorous friend Helen, fashion buyer and old chum from wine course days, originally took me there some years ago and I still find it an ideal place for the odd treat. But oh, the stress of the train journey…! Oh, the lack of tubes at the other end..! Oh, the tension and suspense as the Tuscan Restaurant upstairs is closed in the winter months and you can only lunch downstairs without reservations (no wonder I am balding!)

Thankfully, as we decided on our courses (and again, thanks to Katie Caldesi) the manager served us a refreshingly welcome complimentary glass of lemon fresh prosecco to tease the tastebuds while we made our choices.

The Frittura mista di pesce, crispy fried calamari, whitebait and prawns. Delicious contrasts between the saline, the citrus, the crunch and the tenderness, presented in a rich, light batter, and served on a board. This, for Aunt J, brought childhood seaside memories of crispy fried whitebait. Crunchy to the taste, fishy and lemony; a must for her. Sweet meated prawns and to-the-bite calamari provided variety to this dish.

Me? Well, I am a bloke. Let’s face it, I eat meat. It’s a savage, sweary, Grrr, hairy-chested thing going back to hunting-gathering. A primal itch (continuing the theme in Twitter on Blokeseatbeef) that needed scratching. I chose the Tagliere misto di salumi e formaggi (Ok so there’s cheese in it, and I am a bit of a softy). Textural differences of smoothly elastic parma ham, spongy mortadella, and the firmer, drier bite of a rich bresaola, contrast with the two varieties of pecorino, of which the Sicilian had a wonderful, almost blue vein mature spice to it; olives and sun dried tomatoes (acidy citrus and tomato sweetened oil); a light and lightly salted foccacia; and finally, a melt-in-the-mouth artichoke perfectly cooked and effortlessly swallowed. (Goodness, what will the main course hold for us?)

I wanted to order Il Peposo; a slow cooked piece of beef with tomatoes and black peppercorns on a bed of polenta. Sounds salivatingly dreamy, doesn’t it? However, it really is slooooooooow cooked (and I was too early). Tempting as this was, our union will have to wait until another time.

Instead, both of Aunt J and I chose the La Milanese, a breaded veal escalope with potatoes and green salad. Veal, breaded and served on the bone (this one seems to be cut like a valentine chop before being hammered out, and is big enough for any bloke with primal meat urges, in fact, bigger). Cubes of oven roasted (an assumption there) floury potatoes compliment the light velvetiness of the veal. The breaded crumb coating is rich and eggy, crisp to the knife; the milky lightness of the veal, almost as melt away in the mouth as the artichoke earlier, cuts as easily as butter and is sharpened by the lemon juice. Neither the refreshing salad, nor the wine, could help me finish this course off. No bad thing, except for my ever growing waistline (strangely, Aunt J managed to eat it all and still remains slim!)

A Nipozzano Chianti Ruffina, Marchesi di Frescobaldi, 2002 (A half bottle, the station is still a seven mile drive away from Aunt J’s house) accompanied the main course. Fruity berries, tannins, richness and acidity. Mouthwateringly good with a long, long finish.

Pudding? Just a mouthful. Tiramisu, and with a candle in it for Aunt J’s birthday (the manager also offered to sing, but to his relief we decided to remain discreet!) Spoonful followed spoonful of gorgeous textures from the streaks of infused sponge to the mascarpone; cloyingly (in a good way) long lasting creaminess and chocolate powder. (I like a bit of crunch when I make mine so add amaretto biscuits soaked in alcohol but, like my writing, maybe I gild the lily). But hang on a minute, has the recipe changed? Last time I thought it had a rich Tuscan yellow cream (perhaps it is an egg yolk thing?)

Still, it was delicious and I needed a very long walk to burn it all off. (Actually, I needed to lie down, wrapped in the blanket of my own gluttony. Bliss.) Thank you! Thank you for making it a really enjoyable day.

Caffé Caldesi, 118 Marylebone Lane, London W1 U 2QF. T 020 7935 1144. E:

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