Campo de' Fiori
Paolo Tullio's Review
I've just spent three days exploring Piedmont, the region in Italy's Northwest that's centred on Turin. Italy's best known red wines come from here - Barolo and Barbaresco - and the most prestigious truffle of them all, the white truffle, is traded in Alba, which is also in Piedmont. What's not so well known about this region is that it's where the Slow Food movement started and it's where Ferrero Rocher make those little sweeties that ambassadors spoil their guests with.
Apart from these well-known names, I discovered that Piedmont is filled with passionate artisan producers of foods - cheese makers, wine makers, very old distilleries and hazel nut producers whose nuts go into Ferrero Rocher's chocolates and into Nutella spread. The whole region is abuzz with gastronomic enterprise and after three days there I now have a new respect for the Piedmontese kitchen.
Back home again I wanted to meet up with my daughter who I haven't seen for a while, and the idea of an Italian meal was still in my mind. We decided on Sunday lunch and I asked for a suggestion. She came up with Campo de' Fiori in Bray. Now I've been there before and I remember writing a rather grumpy review of it. Since then I've had a number of emails telling me of good meals there, so with those in mind and my daughter's recommendation as well, I thought it might be time to give the place another chance. I can't repeat it often enough - you should never lose sight of the fact that a review by me is just a snap-shot of a single meal. It isn't necessarily representative of what the restaurant does the rest of the time.
Campo de' Fiori, which mans field of flowers', opens at two o'clock on a Sunday, so on the dot of two I was there to meet Isabella and her friend Dave O'Hara. The dining room is quite small, maybe ten tables, the wooden tables and chairs are simple, and the whole effect is one of a casual bistro. Interestingly, I thought, the two tables nearest us were occupied by young families speaking in Italian, which boded well for the meal. The staff were Italian as well, so there's a genuine feel of authenticity.
I started with the wine list, which is a good one. The wines are divided by region and most regions of Italy are represented, frequently by good wineries. For example the Campania region is represented by the Mastroberardino winery and you can find their Falanghina, Fiano, Greco di Tufo and the red Taurasi on the list. There are enough choices in the 20 - 30 range to satisfy most palates as well as a couple of top-end Barolos and Barbarescos. I chose the white Fiano di Avellino, which was priced at 27.60.
The menu is a long one. There are two pages of antipasti, which range from simple crostini and bruschette to platters of fish, meat and vegetables that are designed for sharing. There are a dozen or so pastas and then about twenty main courses of meat and fish, all of which makes for a lot of reading. You might find yourself smiling a little at the translations of the dishes, which in some cases do approximate to English.
My biggest complaint the last time I visited was the price of some of the main courses. They were priced in the mid-twenties, but they came with nothing else and each side order - like potatoes or vegetables - were priced at a further 3.50 each, which would have brought the cost of the plate to over 30. This time each main course price includes a choice of one side order, which is an improvement. I do feel that main courses should come complete and side orders ought really to be extras, rather than necessities. Anyway, this time we chose our meals in such a way that this pricing system didn't apply.
Isabella and Dave started with the antipasto del montanero' at 16.90, which turned ought to be a generous array of cold meats and cheeses on four plates. There was more than enough for the two of them to eat their fill and still be a bit left for me to taste. I started with Grandma's minestrone', a good old-fashioned vegetable soup which was nicely salted and flavoured.
Next Isabella and Dave chose a pasta each; one of the day's specials for Isabella - the tagliatelle with prawns and the linguini with lobster for Dave. These were 15.50 and 18.50 respectively, which didn't seem overpriced when the dishes arrived - Isabella's tagliatelle covered with prawns and Dave's with a half lobster across his linguini. I'd chosen one of the pizzas, a capricciosa, which was priced at 11.95.
I thought Dave's dish was good, the pasta was well-cooked and flavoured and the lobster was cooked perfectly. He was even given a bib to go with the various implements he needed to deconstruct his lobster, so he was able to get his food hand-on style. Isabella's pasta was just a bit too al dente to be easy to eat, although she did like the sauce and the fresh, fleshy prawns. My pizza was just the way I like them; a thin base that was crisply cooked with a generous filling of mozzarella, prosciutto, olives and an egg.
We followed this with three really good espressos. We asked for ristretto' - not much water - and that's exactly how they came: small, very black and carrying a real caffeine kick. The bill, which also included three bottles of mineral water, came to 112.65 without service.
As we left we saw a new Italian delicatessen across the road and went over to investigate. Turns out it's owned by Campo de' Fiori and it's stuffed with genuine Italian goodies. Looks like this corner of Bray is turning into Little Italy.