Tucked behind a quiet corner off Marylebone High Street, Caffé Caldesi is an unsuspecting quintessential trattoria, full of all the traditional Italian charm that you would expect from a family-run restaurant such as this. From the moment that my companion and I walked in, we were warmly greeted by the front-of-house staff. Our waiter for the evening, Mattia Pirro, welcomed us upstairs to the restaurant where our table by the window, which overlooked the boutiques and juice bars lining Marylebone Lane – the perfect people watching spot – was laid out.
There are three strands to this London restaurant: first, a café-come-bar on the ground floor; second, a more formal restaurant upstairs; and finally, in the mews behind the restaurant is a cookery school where the owners, Giancarlo Caldesi and his wife Katie, share the secrets of their trade. Whilst Giancarlo is kept busy running not only their London branch but also their restaurant in Bray and further cookery courses in his native Tuscany, Katie is an avid food writer. Her books line the shelves of the stairs, alongside the kitchen’s well-sourced balsamic vinegars and extra virgin olive oils, all of which are available for sale. The couple, well-established in the industry, also make regular television appearances, featuring on programmes such as Market Kitchen, BBC Masterchef, and more recently Saturday Kitchen. Given their deep-rooted appreciation of authentic Italian cooking – which, at heart, should be simple, seasonal, and fresh – I was excited about dining at Caffe Caldesi.
In true Italian style, we began our summer’s evening over a classic aperitif of an aperol spritz (£7) and a peach bellini (£6.50). Although the peach puree had not been freshly pressed, they were the perfect, refreshing cocktails to enjoy whilst perusing the menu. Not only were we impressed by their extensive and varied cocktail menu, which featured summer specialties including chilli vodka and homemade rosemary syrup, but we were also spoilt for choice by their solely dedicated vegetarian menu. Luckily we had plenty of time to choose. The waiters did not rush us in the slight, but attentively brought us herb marinated olives and a foccacia basket served with what my companion described as one of the finest balsamic vinegars she has tasted. That the restaurant and café were not particularly busy for a Saturday evening did not seem to be the reason for the staff’s attentiveness.
After much deliberation, my companion opted for the Caprese starter (£8), whilst I chose the Burrata (11.50), the creamier cousin of mozzarella and a delicacy of southern Italy. A feast for both the palette and the eyes, both dishes were beautifully presented on dark slate that provided a stunning visual contrast to the white cheeses. The burrata, which was served with seasonal baby vegetables including petit pois, girolle mushrooms, carrots, and ribbon courgettes, was indulgent. Best of all were the toasted hazelnuts, which provided the perfect textural crunch to this luxurious cheese with its oozy centre. Meanwhile, my companion’s caprese salad of buffalo mozzarella, vine tomatoes specially imported from Sardinia, and a drizzle of homemade pesto was equally successful. The quality of Café Caldesi’s cheeses alone make their dishes sing, surprising given the reasonable prices of the menu.
I wasn’t sure how the mains could live up to our starters, but they too did not disappoint. The Ravioli filled with ricotta cheese, and lemon in a butter and mint sauce (£10/£12.50), had a melt-in-the-mouth quality typical of homemade pasta, a talent that is a particular forte of the Caldesi. So fresh was the pasta that it shone without the need for further adornment other than a smattering of petit pois. A side of well-seasoned fried courgettes also complemented the dish well. Meanwhile, my companion’s Baked aubergine, tomato sauce (of which there could have been a dollop more), mozzarella, grana padanao dop and basil (£11) had been skillfully prepared, with well-defined layers. Our attentive waiter gave us an insight into its cooking process, reflecting the knowledge of the Caffe Caldesi staff and the care that they put into their service. Many of the waiters and chefs come from all over Italy, drawing upon their local experience to bring a varied menu to the London restaurant. Not only are the staff Italian, but many of our fellow diners were too, testament to Caffé Caldesis’s authenticity.
Although we were tempted by Giancarlo’s specialty tiramisu “served in a jar”, given the generous portions of the previous two courses we chose to have a lighter desert of a selection of home-made gelato (£6). Deliciously nutty and creamy, the hazlenut and coconut flavours provided the perfect palette cleansers and were enjoyed alongside cappuccinos made with coffee from the Italian region of Modena. Everything here at Caffe Caldesi is expertly sourced.
Warm service, top-quality produce, and an attractive Marylebone setting, Caffé Caldesi is just the type of local to which, once discovered, would attract a return trip. Indeed, this was the fifth or sixth visit of the couple on the table adjacent to us who, having shared their first date here, have now become such regular patrons that they are offered limoncellos on the house! Like them, Caffé Caldesi is an Italian institution that I too will be undoubtedly enjoying again.
Caffé Caldesi, 118 Marylebone Lane, Marylebone, London W1U 2QF