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Eat here: Caldesi in Campagna, Bray

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I’ve been waiting to write about Caldesi in Campagna restaurant for the last week, but the weather has been so horrific that I decided to hold back. Now I’m looking at (sort of) blue skies so I’m taking my chance.

You’ll probably know the Caldesi name already – their elegant Italian restaurant in Bray is really well-regarded, they’ve brought out several books, plus Katie and Giancarlo have their own cookery schools in Gerrard’s Cross and Marylebone.

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Bray is one of those foodie microcosms, where the whole village is subsumed under gastronomic excellence at every turn, with three – THREE! – Heston Blumenthal offerings, Michel Roux’s The Waterside Inn (one of only three restaurants in the whole country with three Michelin stars), and Caldesi in Campagna all locking kitchen knives at dawn.

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You have to look for the Caldesis though as they’re slightly off the main drag, so it’s really a restaurant that those in the know will visit rather than much drop-in trade. When you find it you’ll be pleased you did – a white Georgian facade leading into a light, elegant, grown-up interior, with a bar to the left, and white-clothed tables. Kind of reminded me of Artichoke in Amersham in that way.

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The restaurant is deeper than you’d think, going bak into a second area, then an intimate conservatory and then…. TADA… into the most lovely little Italianate dining courtyard, all massive awnings, terracotta pots, tumbling flora and fauna. Isn’t it beautiful? It would be brilliant for private parties.

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It was a sunny day – yeah, remember those? – so I went quite salady. I don’t know about you but I’m craving more of this kind of food at the moment – light, healthy(ish) summery. So I started with a beautifully presented (loving those platters), a mozzarella with sweet onion vinaigrette and heritage tomatoes…

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… and this courgette carpaccio, ricotta cheese, melon and courgette flower salad. Just about the prettiest thing I’ve seen on a plate this year.

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For mains I shared a knock-out salmon and watercress salad, plus a chargrilled sardines with lemon rice salad. Yeah I know, virtuous me.

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Then *cough*, I returned to true form with dessert – Bomboloni (that’s Italian style doughnuts to the likes of you and me). Lighter than air with a liberal dusting of sugar, vanilla custard and berry jam in which to dunk them. O.M.G. Unbelievably good.

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Looks pretty good right?! I’m excited because I feel it offered something I haven’t had for a while – a more formal, grown-up restaurant with special food and this stonking outdoor area. The staff are wonderfully Italian – charming, solicitous, flamboyant in places, knowledgeable. No pimply school leavers here! So the long and short is that I’m definitely going back there. My mum will love the new lunch offering and all those salads for when Summer finally appears.

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THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Special occasions, laidback classy lunches, large groups (nab that courtyard!), romantic trysts. Those who want the food to take centre stage. They throw a lot of themed events – relax, not in an Elvis-impersonator way – that look interesting, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the website and twitter. There’s a Summer BBQ and Salad Night with the chefs cooking alla brace (naturally *cough* I knew that meant ‘on the embers’)  coming up on 5 July.

Not for: Families with young kids looking for a more casual drop-in. It’s an Italian restaurant so I’m sure all the staff would be charming, but you don’t want your toddler tantruming and trying to pull the table cloths off (yes *sigh*, I  speak from experience). Parking is very limited, though there’s a good village car park a minute or so away.

£££: Reasonable for the quality. £19.50 for two courses at lunch, £24.50 for 3 courses over lunch. For a la carte, it’s £13 to £19 for the majority of antipasti/ pasta; £25 to £29 for fish and meat courses, sides £5.50.

Caldesi in Campagna, Old Mill Lane, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2BG. Tel: 01628 788500. caldesi.com/caldesi-in-campagna/

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