Muddy eats: Canaletto, Kingswood
When disaster hits and I can’t make a food review, my first call is always my fellow mucker Kerry Potter, journo extraordinaire for Elle, Grazia, The Pool and the broadsheets, who lives in Thame and happens to be nearly as gluttonous as me. She slipped into something a little more roomy – the venue was an Italian restaurant after all – and zipped off with her family to Canaletto in Kingswood, in Buckinghamshire. Here’s her verdict.
When was the last time you saw a dessert trolley? Circa 1984 maybe? But it’s the first thing we clock on Sunday lunchtime as we walk into Canaletto, a roadside pub that’s been converted into an Italian restaurant. There it is, groaning with tiramisu, cheesecake, mousse and cakes. I have to forcibly drag my two children away from to our table, lest they dip a grubby finger into the alluring array of homemade creamy delights. Over the course of our lunch, it’s paraded repeatedly around the restaurant, as diners coo in greedy anticipation.
Owner James Varela admits he was initially unsure about the trolley, but it’s a flash of kitsch fun within this sleekly run, modern Italian restaurant. There is something charmingly old-fashioned about the service too – the gregarious waiters are almost all older men, immaculate in white shirts, ties and aprons. Most are Italian, as are the chefs, although James and his co-owner father Javier actually hail from Spain.
Father and son opened Canaletto three years ago, in the belief that this area of Bucks, equidistant between Bicester and Aylesbury, was lacking in Italian dining options. It’s an immaculately refurbished roadside pub with a huge car park, right on the A41 – which makes it an ideal stopping-off point if you’re either Bicester Village or Waddesdon Manor bound. Located in the tiny hamlet of Kingswood, it’s managed to retain the local drinking crowd so the low-beamed bar, with its roaring open fire and flagstone tiled floor, has a cosy, buzzy feel. Beyond the bar is a vast, high-ceilinged dining room that can seat 100. There’s currently no outdoor space but by next summer there will be a large garden, with decking, sofa seating and an outdoor pizza oven.
Pizza is the one thing not currently on the menu – it’s definitely a more formal dining experience than, say, a quick bite at Zizzi or ASK. Accordingly, the food is far superior. The pasta and sauces are all made from scratch: my children wolfed down their penne pomodoro and tagliatelle bolognese; ditto their excellent garlic bread.
Roasts are served on Sundays but we went native – I had calamari to start followed by herb-crusted baked sea trout with broad bean, pea and mint risotto.
My husband Rich had penne arrabiata, then duck breast in Sicilian spices with heritage carrots in pretty shades.
It was all uniformly delicious – quality ingredients, deftly cooked. My top tip is the zucchini fritti – a side-dish so hot, salty and moreish my children were tricked into eating courgette. There’s also an extensive gluten-free menu – including pasta and bread. Plus if you wanted a quick bowl of lasagne and glass of Chianti in the bar rather than a full-on dinner or Sunday lunch, you can do just that.
Finally, thrillingly, the trolley of dreams was wheeled over in our direction. Between the four of us, we tried the berry cheesecake, limoncello sponge, chocolate mousse and toscanella (the Italian version of profiteroles). If you don’t do dairy, you’d struggle here, but despite the extreme creaminess, all were lighter than we’d feared. The children declared the whole experience “even better than Prezzo” – in seven-year-old speak, this is the equivalent of a Michelin star.
As I gaze around the bustling room, I notice that many of the families and couples around us are actually Italian. The local Bucks expat community are frequent visitors, says James, and if it wasn’t an authentic experience, they’d wouldn’t hesitate to tell him. An Italian Job well done then? Absolutely.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: A family lunch or large gathering – there’s plenty of space in the dining room. It’s also the perfect stop-off if you’re en route to/from Bicester Village or Waddesdon Manor.
Not for: Those seeking a pre or post prandial walk – it’s located right on the busy A41. And while the décor is immaculate, design snobs may find the cavernous dining room slightly lacking in character.
£££: Sunday lunch is good value at £19.95 for two courses or £22.95 for three. However, owners of multiple/hungry kids, please note: you pay for each course on the children’s menu separately – £3.95 for a garlic bread starter, £7.95 or £8.95 for a main, £3.95 for a dessert – so you’ll need to keep an eye to stop prices escalating.
Canaletto, Bicester Road, Kingswood, Aylesbury, Bucks, HP18 0RB. Tel: 01296 770251. canalettorestaurant.com