Tag Archives: italian

Independents in Ipswich – Caffè Basso

Of late, like towns and cities across the country, Ipswich has suffered an invasion. A plague. An epidemic. For a great wave of identikit cappuccinos, dubious frappes (Nero is currently proudly proclaiming to have ‘the iciest coffee’ – what?!) and overpriced paninis has swept through the town, leaving non-branded coffee quaking in its wake.

A 'pumpkin-spiced latte with chai', according to the kind Flickr person from whom I borrowed it

It might have hit Suffolk a bit later than elsewhere, but the cult of the chain café has done its damage here too. Despite spending too many of my formative years ensconced in the sofas of Ipswich’s first Nero, whether it be gossiping, revising (from A-level geography to the finer points of the Faerie Queene) or, lately, knitting and being nosey, now even I’m slowly moving away from my favourite haunt. In the last five years, the grip of the chain café has just become too strong.

The worst victim is the poor old Great White Horse Hotel, which has now been colonised by a Starbucks. It’s admittedly one of the more elegant ones, but the fact that the other half of the building is home to a fly-by-night shop selling diamante and sequin covered handkerchiefs masquerading as skirts slightly detracts from its supposedly classy image. Together with the Carr Street Costa and the original Nero, it forms a Bermuda Triangle of mass-market coffee shops, all within about twenty paces of each other.

But now, finally, Ipswich is fighting back. It’s always had a few old-fashioned, tea-and-bun style establishments, like Pickwicks, or Blends in the Buttermarket, but nothing to tug a younger generation away from the lure of Starbucks.

Not so now. Every time I come home, there’s another shiny new café, brimming with good coffee, individual touches and an optimism which will hopefully sustain them through the recession.

In the last few days I’ve managed to fit in two visits to Caffè Basso (being a soon-to-be-employed journalist is tough). It’s been around for more than a year now, but, shamefully, I’d never been before – now I wish I had.

It’s great. Glass-fronted and sleek, if it wasn’t for the unavoidable view of the Co-op car park, you could almost forget you were in England. They’ve tried to make it as authentic as possible, and apart from the jarring note of a bottle of Smirnoff Ice in the fridge (what?!), they succeed . Italian radio plays in the background and even the toilet pays homage to Basso’s roots – one of the walls is decorated entirely with Italian newspaper pages, covered in glass. In other hands it could have been tacky, but everything is done lightly and elegantly, so it’s classy rather than kitsch.

The coffee list is refreshingly to the point, with some new names to add to the familiar list, including a Corretto (which I’d never seen before), a coffee with an added shot of sambuca. Maybe not for breakfast.

Beer + Coffee = Perfection

But the coffee – even sambuca-less – is really very good. Their cappuccino was small, with just the right amount of tight-bubbled creamy froth rather than the shaving foam beloved of some places, and the coffee was strong without being bitter.

It’s licensed, so you can have my current favourite pairing – an espresso with a beer. The cakes displayed behind the beautiful curved glass counter look gorgeous – my friend’s ‘americano’ (New York-style) cheesecake was generous and creamy, her only complaint the lack of a proper biscuit base (‘it’s the best bit!’). They also do a mean-looking tiramisu, a couple of tortas and, unusually for Ipswich anyway, delicious ricotta-filled cannoli.

Their food menu is different, too – we had a flatbread filled with goat’s cheese and spinach, and although the filling could have been more substantial, the bread was great, with a bite and chewiness very different to dull pre-packed panini.

Goat's cheese and spinach flatbread

With free wi-fi, the day’s papers lying about, reasonable prices (£1.40 for an espresso, £2.05 for a cappuccino) and plenty of space, it’s the perfect place to relax and read in peace without being harried along. And there’s not a Starbucks logo in sight.

There’s loads more Ipswich independents to add to this list, including the gorgeous Museum Street Café, Saints, St Nicholas Stores and the Napoli Deli, and I’ll be writing about them in the next few days, but I’d love to have some more recommendations for the best independents in Ipswich – please send me your suggestions!

Carluccio’s Exclusive Launch Party – Review

Reposted from www.ilovecf.com

Canapés and prosecco flowed generously on Thursday at the exclusive launch party of the new Carluccio’s caffe in Mill Lane.

Gabriella Perez serves arancini

Cardiff stars including the BBC’s Rhodri Owen packed the glossy new restaurant to see if the latest London- export would live up to the hype.

Sadly one star was missing from the celebrations – chef Antonio Carluccio himself, who had been taken to hospital after falling ill.

But the cheerful staff did their bit to make sure the party still went on in style. They served Bellinis on arrival and kept copious amounts of canapés circulating to showcase the restaurant’s menu.

We were treated to bruschetta topped with tender beef carpaccio, king prawns wrapped in crispy pancetta and warm arancini, creamy risotto encased in crispy breadcrumbs and deep fried.

There were huge bowls of plump olives too, as well as mozzarella in balsamic vinegar and an entire parma ham which chef Robert Coles sliced while you waited and wrapped generously around grissini.

But the evening culminated in a special Italian-style hog roast, cooked outside by chefs braving the rain. With only just enough room to spare after all the canapés, we still loved the chunks of tender pork, served in salty focaccia with caramelised red onion chutney and rocket .

Chef Robert Coles carves parma ham

The restaurant was perhaps too full if anything, and the room had to be carefully navigated to avoid spilling Bellinis over other guests, but the food more than made up for it.

Managing director Simon Kosoff said the restaurant had only been open for a week but they had already been receiving good feedback.

He praised the city too, saying: “We think Cardiff is a vibrant and exciting place, and St David’s is at the centre of that. Tonight it’s a big party to say thank you to all the people who’ve made this happen, and a few friends as well.

Antonio is in hospital but he told me to send his good wishes to you all. It’s nothing serious and he should be out tomorrow.”

Carving the hog roast

The new Carluccio’s joins a host of Italian restaurants jostling for space near the new St David’s development, including Gio’s, Ask and most recently Jamie’s Italian.

But if the food at the launch is anything to go by, they should stand every chance of holding their own in Cardiff’s new Little Italy.