CAFFE CALDESI: THE BATTLE OF THE HAMS
“It’s the best ham in the world” our charming server at Caffe Caldesi told us giving that dreamy look that only Italians can manage when thinking about fine food.
She was wrong of course, San Daniele ham is stunning stuff, but pales beside its Spanish counterpart, Jamon Iberico. More of that later, however.
I was having lunch with not one, but two publicity gurus from John Murray, my rather excellent publishing company. Lucy and Nikki came with spreadsheets in hand to explain how they were about to persuade the press and the world at large that one fat man’s journey around the world to gorge himself senseless might just be worthy of coverage. I don’t know about the media, but they had me convinced.
As usual when I have lunch/supper with anyone, it was left to me to select a venue. I suspect the fact that I do this here blog has something to do with that, but I don’t mind particularly as it gives me an opportunity to play. In this case, with the words “light” and “local” in mind, I lit upon Caffe Caldesi, the junior sibling of Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi’s more formal Tuscan joint in Marylebone.
The room is perfect, light and airy and just enough buzz to make it fun while not inducing the need to scream. The menu too, while pricier than the cooking deserves, offers enough options to eat both sensibly of heartily as your mood demands.
Nikki and Lucy were both persuaded by the offer of the ham and thick, meaty strips came on a wooden platter topped with creamy mozzarella. What I tasted was good and there is a good reason why San Daniele is in Serie A of the world’s hams, the mozzarella too prompted slightly improper moans from my two companions.
My own starter of fritto misto involved well-fried, fresh prawns, whitebait and squid in decent enough portions for me to allow wandering hands to creep across the table in sample mode.
Main courses were more workaday, well at least mine was and, while the orange sauce napped on top of my duck breast carried with it happy memories of old school tratt’s, the bird underneath was overcooked to grey. Lucy’s pasta with seafood and Nikki’s beetroot tortellini both looked a whole lot more interesting but with knowledge of the afternoon ahead of me, I left them to their own devices.
Hardly a world changing experience but why should every meal strive to achieve that? Caffe Caldesi provides a solid, if pricey option for an agreeable business lunch.
Now back to that ham, or in this case Jamon. The reason I glazed over when San Daniele was described as “the best in then world” was because my afternoon saw me taking up an invitation from the good people of Brindisa to taste the new release of the Joselito Gran Reserva Iberico Jamon.
For those of you who don’t know these hams, they are cured for a minimum of eighteen months and are the ne plus ultra of piggy legs. To my mind at least, they are the greatest food product on the face of the earth and no one produces better than Joselito. a family run firm with hundreds of acres of land in Spain’s Extremadura region Joselito a reputation for producing the best of the best and their pigs feed on the rich acorns which give Iberico its famous flavour.
No one has done more than Brindisa to promote fine Spanish food in the U.K as the queues at Borough Market prove and they did not let us down at this event with two fine small hams being carved expertly by Zack and Jose before being layered on to plates where, as they came up to temperature, the fat glistened as it melted.
It is hard to explain how good Iberico is to someone who has not tried it. The soft, silky texture of the meat, the warm, acorn rich fat melting in the mouth and the lingering savoury aftertaste. All I can say is that, if you have not tried it, then you have missed on of the food world’s very best experience.
So, now the new hams are in, get yourself down to Brindisa to try some. Oh, and there is a stall selling San Daniele there too, so you can do your own comparison and come back and tell me how right I am. Mind you, I already know that.