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Tuscany in London's St Marylebone

The restaurant Caldesi successfully beckons you into a little Tuscan world of its own. It manages to steer a clever course between the hard edged minimalist new style London restaurant, and the retro Trattoria - so no dangling empty Chianti bottles here, just excellent full ones waiting to be opened and enjoyed. At lunch time when we visited, there was a relaxed air of sophistication, cool style and a laid back buzz of conversation. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I'm tired of shouting myself hoarse - it's so exhausting and it certainly detracts from the full appreciation and enjoyment of the cooking.

OK, rant of the day over, so what about the food? Head Chef Gregorio Piazza, assisted by Marco Moscoloni, has assembled an accessible a la carte menu - by which I mean seven antipasti, five pasta dishes, four of fish and six of meat. So many Italian restaurants have vast lists, especially of pasta, that one suspects no more than cooking by numbers. Here every pasta type is made lovingly in house. I know this because Giancarlo Caldesi - il gran formaggio himself, boss of the whole Caldesi empire, showed a few of us hacks how it should be done when we attended the opening of his Italian cookery school, Cucina Caldesi.

So I passed over the excellent choices of antipasti, sad to miss the Buffalo Mozzarella with slow roasted tomatoes, or the fresh crab and avocado, the scallops with a leek mousse, or the pork stuffed with Tuscan herbs, but instead enjoyed the most beautifully constructed ravioli stuffed with seabass, swimming in an intensely flavoured lemon butter sauce. The pasta was as good as it gets, both in flavour and texture. My guest had the pumpkin risotto, perfectly creamy, with a nuttiness derived from a careful balance of the squash and the earthy flavours of added truffle. What a good start!

He continued with chargrilled seabass, simply presented with lemon scented olive oil and roasted garlic and cherry tomatoes - no fuss, just excellent ingredients and precise timing. I had one of the dishes of the day, slices of chargrilled steak with fennel. This was slack ordering on my part as I don't really enjoy strips of  thinly slcied steak. I should have paid more attention to the waiter's verbal description. When it came, however, I realised that it was probably a lot more sensible than the Spezzatino Toscano, that delicious slow cooked beef stew that would have most likely finished me off for the rest of the day. Next time perhaps, in the evening, I'll go for it then - or maybe the overnight marinated wild boar, slow cooked in red wine and olives. There is robust cooking here, none of your scaloppini in sickly cream sauces.

The wine list provides an exemplary selection of quality wines from the region, but sadly few by the glass. There's even a list of "Wiskeys" - I don't think JW Black Label would enjoy such classification, but I suppose "Jamson" might belong there, and what about "Burbons", come to that? But who cares about mere spelling when there's a huge choice of Grappa, plus Limoncello, Amaretto and other Italian liquori!

The dolci looked very good, with chocolate fondant, tiramisu and orange tart with fig ice cream competing for our attention. All I could manage was a scoop of lovely home made sorbet, but my pal managed the orange tart. I gave him a little help and was rewarded with a delicious taste of caramelised orange and figs.

I can recommend Caldesi Tuscan for careful, well cooked, unfussy Italian food that speaks for itself, professionally served in a comfortable, relaxed dining room.

Clifford Mould May 2006

The cost of your meal: Antipasti £9.50 - ££12.00; Pasta £9.00 - £13.00; mains £17.00 - £19.00, desserts £6.50

Open: Monday - Friday for Lunch: 12.00pm - 2.30pm

Monday - Saturday for Dinner: 6.00pm - 11.00pm

Caldesi Tuscan, 15-17 Marylebone Lane, London W1M 5FE

Tel: 0207 935 9226/7   Fax: 0207 935 9228 
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