Caffé Caldesi

Tel: +44 (0)20 7935 9226/7
Address: 15-17 Marylebone Lane, London W1M 5FE
Cuisine Type: Italian
nearest tube station Oxford Circus

Caffé Caldesi is Italian with a capital I. As the menu proudly boasts, “our staff originates from eleven out of the twenty-one regions of Italy”. Italian food aficionados can even sign up for the restaurant’s offshoot catering school, offering courses in Italian cooking, wine, art – and even children’s cookery classes. And once diners tuck in to the mouthwatering array of food on offer, it’s abundantly clear that this restaurant does not do things by halves.

Five of us settled down to order. That could have meant five starters to try, but our grand design was torpedoed when we saw someone at the next table being served caprino con insalata aromatizzata e mostarda al miele – panfried goat’s cheese with herb salad and honey dressing – for £6.50, mid-priced amongst the antipasti. Comfort food with a capital C. Four of us went for it – the other ordered it as a main course – “room for pudding” had to be made. More on the dolci later.

The wines range from moderate to mildly eyebrow-raising in price, with a good range of Italian and international offerings in white and red. Perfectly serviceable merlot can be had for around the £18 mark. The staff are not only able to advise on the specials but on which wines work best with which courses – and are attentive and unobtrusive.

A small selection of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar sets the bill back £2, but we added this to our order as we considered la pasta, il pesce and la carne.

The division makes sense, rather than a prescriptive secondi piatti section, for there are thirteen main courses to choose from, plus specials of the day. Pasta can be had as a starter for £8-10, or as a main course for £10-12.50 – the priciest being fettuccine al funghi di stagione – seasonal mushrooms, garlic and chilli with fresh fettuccine. There’s also a tempting vegetarian risotto featuring peas, broad beans and courgettes – but all but one of the pasta dishes are vegetarian delights.

Two of my companions opted for ravioli di ricotta alle erbe con burro e salvia and made appreciative noises. Linguine con granchio, asparagi e pomodori di Pachino (linguine with crab), as the only fishy pasta, was also sampled and proved perfect, the asparagus spears cooked just beyond crunchiness. The fish selection ranges from pan fried cod to chargrilled squid, tuna and sea bass.

I decided on Scallopine di Vitello al vino bianco con vegetali al burro (which hardly needs translating as veal in white wine with buttered vegetables). Simple, succulent and mouthwatering. There was the option of a side order of vegetables for £3, but we decided our main courses were suitably filling without the extras.

Pudding at Caffé Caldesi is an event in itself, and almost worth a visit on its own at the end of an evening. The restaurant uses a patisserie chef, Stefano Borella, to produce the selection that ranges from £5.50 to £7.50. Each dish comes with a recommendation for a pudding wine to go with it, these available from £6 to £8.50. I opted for pesche al forno con albicocche marinate al tocai e gelato di albicocca (translation: heaven on a plate). It looked as exquisite as it sounded and, in the eating, tasted.

If fruit sounds too healthy for pudding, one can always opt instead for assaggi del pasticcere – a selection of chocolate desserts including white chocolate brulee, chocolate sorbet, flourless chocolate cake (the highlight) and milk chocolate mousse. We’d have felt silly in not ordering this. So we ordered it. It was… chocolatey. Very chocolatey. Short of a visit to a chocolate factory, it’s difficult to imagine a more decadent end to an Italian meal.