La Capanna in Cobham is the granddaddy of fine dining Italian restaurants in Surrey, writes Catherine Whyte
For years La Capanna has sat at the head of the table, like the bearded patriarch of the large extended family. Max Clifford, the omnipresent publicist whose offices are a short star-studded jaunt away, has taken the likes of John Lennon and Frank Sinatra there. And you can’t get better than that for dining alumni.
The main thing to bear in mind about La Capanna is that it is very old school. And I mean, very. Don’t come here if you are looking for some young upstart of a modern restaurant, with its minimalist aesthetic and modern cuisine.
The decor can be quite a shock if you’re not prepared. When I walked in, I felt a little queasy if truth be told – as though I had been propelled straight to the seventies through a juddering old time vortex.
Yet actually, once you get inside, the main dining area is exceptionally pretty. In what seems like a mammoth operation, an original 16th century farmhouse was relocated brick by brick from Sussex to Surrey. Tables sit neatly around the outside of the circular room, which also has a gallery (with tables) with an enormous great cartwheel of a chandelier playing centrepiece in the middle. It’s a timeless décor. You could sit inside the restaurant and play a game of ‘guess the decade’ and no one would be any the wiser.
Still, as I was to find out, there are plus sides to this old-fashioned chic, charm that has kept La Capanna dear in the hearts of Surrey diners for nearly 35 years.
The lovely Bernardo, La Capanna’s long-serving restaurant manager, took us under his wing and started us off with a delicious Tenula ca’ Bolani Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli to match our starters – lobster with a vibrant dill, fennel and tomato salad on the side, plus scallops with the juiciest Romano peppers and anchovies starters (£13.00). He chose very well.
In fact, the service continued to be exemplary. Everything you’d expect from a restaurant that calls itself ‘fine dining’. It is a treat to be looked after so well, and with so many smiles and easy conversation.
The chef, Claudio Milani, who is working with the new executive chef Francesco Mazzei, was keen for us to try his Buratta Tortelli (£11.00). A very simple dish with drizzled butter, sage and toasted hazelnuts over the Tortelli, it stood out in a luxurious way, with the rich creaminess of the Buratta – an unusual Mozzarella-like cheese from Puglia – set against the crunchiness of the nuts and the nuttiness of the melted butter.
My dining partner had the Beef Tagliata (served with roast potatoes and blue cheese), which is a firm favourite with diners and a regular feature on the menu.
Judging by the speed in which it vanished, I think it’s safe to say it was good (£28.00). Not least because it was well partnered with another great recommendation from Bernardo, a Mount Langi Ghiran ‘Billi Billi‘ Shiraz 2008.
One of the plus sides I was referring to is the unrushed atmosphere. No one was in any hurry. We took several unrushed hours over our meal and, with no tables crammed in too close next to us, we were able to have to enjoy an evening of discreet conversation without having to make ourselves heard over the surrounding din.
After meandering our way through desserts, coffee and Limoncello we said a fond farewell to Bernardo, Claudio and the rest of the team and got in a taxi to go home. The cheerful taxi driver then proceeded to regale us with stories of how he has brought people from miles around to dine at La Capanna and how popular it is.
So yes, La Capanna obviously has something that people are drawn to. Time stands still here; it’s just you and your meal. It feels special, and comforting at the same time. A bit like coming home after a long stretch away. You get pampered but not in an ostentatious way. It’s safe and good and comforting. Nothing too adventurous here.
For me personally – even though the new menu looks very good – in terms of the food it is no Drake’s but the service really sets it apart and on that basis alone I would recommend it.
Oh, and the wine. Just ask Bernardo.
48 High Street Cobham, KT11 3EF