Le Calandre is located on a main road in the distinctly unprepossessing town of Rubano, some 30 miles or so west of Venice. At the front of the building is a bistro and bar, Le Calandre itself being behind this at the back. The main dining room has eight well-spaced tables, with a smaller additional room to one side. The decor is modern, the lighting low but with the tables themselves carefully picked out with directed spot lights. There were no tablecloths, the tables having a rather disconcerting dip in the centre that is designed to hold the bread basket, but also acts as a very effective wine glass trap if you move your glass too close to the centre of the table.
There were several tasting menus priced from €175 to €250, as well as a la carte choices from €45 to €70 per dish. Last time I ate here I followed the classical menu (currently priced at €220), so this time for a change opted for a modern tasting menu. The wine list appears on an iPad, within an app that allows you to browse the list by country, region, varietal, price etc. Example wines were Walter Massa Derthona Timorasso 2009 at €42 for a wine that you can find in a shop for €23, Zind Humbrecht Calcaire Gewurtztraminer 2010 at €70 for a wine that retails at €33, and Gravner Amphora Ribolla Gialla 2003 at €105 for a wine that costs €70 in a shop. Gaja Barbaresco 2005 was €245 for a wine that retails at €165. These are markup levels that Londoners can only dream of.
As you sit down you begin with a couple of excellent crisp cheese goujeres on cocktail sticks, delicate and with deep flavour (19/20). A trio of amuse-bouches began the meal: pumpkin cream with pumpkin seed and mandarin juice, cod with olive and tomato on a crunchy pastry base, and amatriciana (guanciale, pecorino and tomato) tart. The quality of the ingredients in these really shone through, such as the superb Sicilian tomatoes (19/20). These were also key to the success of an original nibble, a slice of steamed pizza with burrata, anchovies and the same dazzling tomatoes. It is tricky to score a slice of pizza, but this certainly worked well.
Langoustine came on top of a parfait of fava beans, with red chicory and green apple - the bean purée was a nice foil to the perfectly cooked langoustine, the apple adding acidity and the chicory a little bitterness, the overall flavours nicely in balance (19/20).
A dish entitled "naked and raw" involved several raw elements, served on a transparent film rather than a plate. Fassone beef tartare came with raw fish, light cream and truffle.
Next to this was raw lobster with black tea, chicory and apple foam, then tartare of dentex with curry cream and pomegranate seeds. The beef was superb, the seafood similarly of high quality, the additional components complementing the pure flavours of the main elements. This was a complex dish, but the overall effect was terrific, the balance of flavours magnificent (20/20).
Also lovely were little scallops with mustard sauce, apple foam and a little celery. The scallops were sweet and perfectly cooked, the acidity of the apple providing balance, the flavour of the celery remarkable (20/20). Cuttlefish with cream of potato also worked really well, very tender cuttlefish complemented by superb potato (19/20).
Gnocchi with ricotta and spinach pasta came with pumpkin cream, mandarin perfume and smoked pumpkin broth. The pasta was very delicate, the smoky effect carefully controlled (19/20). Potato ravioli with green beans and squid also came with Venus clams, caviar raw local fish and bottarga, further clams and anchovies. I am not a fan of clams so I find this dish hard to score objectively, but it was certainly an interesting combination.
Carbonara came with bottarga, dried egg and oregano, the pasta having terrific texture; it is difficult to innovate with a classic dish like carbonara, but this was certainly an excellent plate of food (18/20). A miniature portion of the signature saffron risotto with liquorice powder was as perfect as ever (20/20), and much more successful than a "white risotto" involving beetroot and squid liver. The beetroot was fine but the squid liver, an unappealing green colour, did nothing for me. I think they would have better with, say, chicken liver, or even something like anglerfish liver if the desire was for a fishy liver taste (barely 16/20).
Much better was a single sheet of raviolo covering chicory and ricotta, with carrot juice and topped with white truffle. The pasta was lovely, the fragrance of the Piedmontese truffle delightful, though this was quite a rich dish (18/20). The same could be said for bone marrow, fried bread, mustard sauce, aromatic herbs and perfume of star anise, served in a scoped out cow femur (18/20). I preferred fried red shrimps with cream of sunflower seeds and balsamic vinegar. The shrimps had dazzling flavour, sweet and perfectly cooked, the batter ethereally light, the balsamic in just the right proportion to balance the dish (20/20).
A little wire frame was presented with pieces of fruit (orange, banana) signalling the transition from savoury to sweet dishes. A pre-dessert of green apple and celery sorbet with liquorice powder and mint perfume was not really my kind of dish, though it was executed well enough. However a dish of chocolate, coffee and hazelnut, with coffee crisp, coffee sorbet and warm coffee cream was dazzling, the intensity of the coffee working beautifully with the chocolate and nut flavours (20/20).
Panettone that had been grilled and served with a spicy apple cream was superb, the cream with a real spicy kick that worked surprisingly well with the sweet bread loaf (19/20). Even better was classic panettone with Marsala sorbet, the airiness of texture of the panettone unrecognisable from the rock-hard specimens that so often pass for panettone in the UK. Just three hours out of the oven, the texture was so light that it was like eating a cloud (2020). Petit fours were a clever milk chocolate lipstick, the chocolate emerging as the lipstick container was twisted, and two chocolates with liquid centres, one of whiskey and one of truffle (19/20). These were served with dark, rich coffee.
Service was superb, the dishes arriving at a steady pace, topping up unobtrusive and flawless. If you went for a shorter tasting menu or a la carte options and had a modest bottle of wine, which would not be hard to find on this quite kindly marked up list, then a typical bill would be about €200 (about £180 a head). This is hardly excessive for top of the range three star Michelin dining. Although I preferred my previous meal here based on its classical dishes, this modernist meal was still very impressive, showing the imagination and versatility of the kitchen. It is telling that the chef seems equally at home here whether cooking classical or modern dishes, letting the diner choose whatever style they prefer. Le Calandre is without doubt one of the top restaurants of the world.
Further reviews: 04th May 2012