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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cala Caterina

The day: 3 September 2008, Dinner.
The place: Via Lago Maggiore 32, Villasimius, Cagliari
The venue: Cala Caterina Hotel

Closest airport: Cagliari (British Airways, Easy Jet)
The food: Fine Regional Italian Dining
The drinks: List strong on regional wines, but far more expensive than the local average, and vintages not indicated on the list of national wines.

What a start. The first dinner of our 2008 Sardinian holiday –let us not make you wait with bated breath- was a letdown. This restaurant is part of a luxury hotel (which looks actually quite nice) situated in the breathtaking Southeastern Sardinian coast. The room is spacious, in light white/yellow colours, a mixture of rustic (floor) and formal (upholstered chairs) environment, with very wide tables.

There is a fixed ‘tasting’ menu (five courses) that costs €50 which, as we shall see, is much more than you need to pay locally for excellent food. And thinking of it, it is even more than what you need to pay in London.

The waitress comes to our table and asks what changes to the menu we want. She looks amazed when we say we don’t want any change. But yes, we want it just as the chef has designed it.

The bread arrives:

Decent, but the really bad omen is the unrequested and dreaded giant peppermill, with a giant salt mill in addition:

And here is the antipasto:

Terrina of ricotta with walnut olive oil, courgettes in ‘escabece’ (marinated) and swordfish carpaccio.

This turned out to be the best dish of the evening, so pay attention…The Carpaccio is cut thickly, a bit of a hatchet job but let’s say it’s a rustic style and we can appreciate it that way. The main problem is the excess acidity from the lemon. The ricotta is good with excellent walnut flavoured olive oil on top, but neither we nor the waitress could identify the accompanying sauce. And the courgettes, though looking horrible, were in fact really good, overall softly textured but with some crispiness left, and expressing a concentrated and balanced sweet/acidic flavour.


Pasta with vegetables and basil, and potato gnocchi with red mullet sauce and saffron.

The pasta looks horrible and it was in fact scandalous. It had clearly been reheated (the waitress refused to confirm or deny…), with mediocre vegetables artlessly assembled and especially a cringing, chewy aubergine, all skin. Far better to focus on the gnocchi, with the ragout sauce just slightly salty, but satisfactory, not too fat (contrast with Refettorio) and yielding a pleasant mullet flavour. It was very strange, anyway, to have these two dishes in a single plate.

Then we have a:

Tomato cream soup

As you can see, it is served smudged (not that anybody seems to care in this place), but otherwise it is an OK soup, pleasantly acidic, very light (no excess cream as we feared), and leaving a good flavour on your palate.

Here come the mains:

Beef with cannonau and shallot reduction, Monkfish with candies tomato and olive oil.

The fish has a defrosted consistency, which is unbelievable and a real shame in an area where (more on this story later) it is so easy to eat fantastic fish. Bad. The beef was better, though the reduction was lacking the promised intensity and did not look very professional, and the cheese, what was the point of the cheese. Another strange combination in a single plate.

We are asked if we want desserts now. We say yeas and five seconds later they appear, making us feel really rushed.

Crepes with chocolate and strawberry pudding, passion fruit sauce and red wine reduction

The strawberry mousse is acceptable flavour wise and texture wise, and the ‘crepe’ (crespella) was positively good. The whipped cream looked unnecessary in this dish (both the crepe filling and the mousse were creamy already). You could have played cricket with the chocolate muffin.

Overall, with a bottle of Ruinas Colli del Limbara Depperu IGT 2007 (but advertised as a DOC 2006) at a steep €33 (very inflated by local standards) and water at €4 (inflated by local standards), the bill comes to €137. We leave no tip.

What to say of this place? It is overall mediocre and far overpriced everyday hotel food, and should be left to the hotel guests, who at least don’t pay the outrageous prices (given the quality) that external guests have to fork out. It’s ridiculous to try and attract customers from outside pretending they have the kitchen to provide dishes worth a trip on purpose. They just don’t. How they got on the ViaMichelin with a positive recommendation is a profound mystery to us. We repeat: this is NOT a restaurant; it’s just a hotel which provides food. The moment you arrive, the waiters, who could not care less for what is in your dish even if they ask, can’t wait to have you out of there. We arrived almost at 9.00, and we left before 10.00! By the end, we were almost the only customers left, and breakfast service for the next day was being prepared in front of us, while we were finishing the meal:

At least we snatched a few breakfast cereals on our way out…

We drove back to our apartment in a disappointed and perplexed mood, but thinking of the crystal clear sea and white sandy beaches waiting for us on the following day. Avoid this ‘restaurant’, as for the same money you can have fantastic meals nearby, and think twice the next time you consult ViaMichelin.


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