Caponata opened in May 2009 in a side street in Camden. On the ground floor is a bar serving snacks, on the first floor a more formal dining room overlooking a glazed courtyard. The courtyard has a retractable wall along one side which opens out to a concert room for live music. The main dining room itself has wood panelling and matching wooden floor, with white linen tablecloths and napkins. The menu is Sicilian, with head chef Danilo Barbagallo previously a pastry chef at Zafferano.
The wine list was entirely Italian, with selections including Giulia Venezia Pinot Grigio 2008 at £25 for a wine retailing at around £7, and a broad selection of Sicilian wines, with plenty of choice under £30 a bottle. The white bread is made from scratch, served warm, and had good texture; for me it could have a little more salt, but this something of a matter of personal taste (14/20 bread).
A nibble of scallop in courgette cream with mint featured a nicely cooked scallop, though the courgette cream would have been better with stronger courgette flavour (admittedly not an easy thing to do) though the mint flavour was well controlled (13/20). Saddle of rabbit (£11) managed to largely avoid drying out the rabbit, which was laced with black truffle and served on a bed of Swiss chard (13/20). Tuna (£9.50) was seared and slices were served with fresh fennel a bed of rocket and a refreshing lime dressing; the rocket had particularly good, peppery taste, and I found this simple dish to be the best of the meal (14/20).
Tortelloni of lobster and scallop (£16.50) suffered from chewy lobster, though the pasta itself had good texture, and the crab and basil bisque it rested in was a pleasant accompaniment (12/20). Risotto with Pecorino cheese was less successful, having both rice that was much too hard, not having been allowed to absorb enough stock, and also too heavily salted, which is not something that is a criticism I often make (10/20).
A main course of celeriac “lasagne” (£9) with wild mushrooms, cream and basil pesto had decently cooked mushrooms, but the celeriac had become a little soggy, and overall the dish cried out for a component with firm texture (11/20). Better was correctly timed pan-fried halibut (£17) with aubergine pesto, green beans and nice garlic crisps (14/20). Roasted rosemary potatoes were crisp and enjoyable, and could have benefitted from even more rosemary (14/20).
I finished with chocolate fondant (£6) with a nicely liquid centre, served with vanilla ice cream that was a little too recently from the freezer, the temperature killing off the vanilla flavour (13/20, but the fondant itself was better). Service from our Italian/Hungarian waiter was attentive and capable.
Overall this was a very enjoyable meal, and I would have scored it a point higher except for a couple of significant slips, especially the worryingly bad risotto. Prices did not seem excessive given the ingredients on show, and I’d happily return. The live music that plays on certain evenings no doubt draws more of a crowd than tonight.