Campagnolo, a creation of Craig Harding, sits quietly along the busy Dundas West dining corridor. Well, quiet if you consider its subtle online presence versus local internet juggernauts Pizzeria Libretto, Black Hoof and California Sandwiches. Not so quiet when you consider it was voted one of 10 Toronto restaurants on Mclean’s top 50 in 2012 and has a food, decor and service Zagat rating of 27, 23 and 27 respectively. There was nothing really fancy about either the inside or outside of this Little Italy venue upon arrival but it gave me a swagger similar to walking into a queen street consignment store and buying a yellow Lacoste cardigan. I was seated right by the window and was subject to a rather annoying draft for a good part of the evening.
The menu is ever changing and based on fresh ingredients but hinges on a few signature items which you can get regularly. That being said, I was here a few weeks ago so a few of the items may not be available if you go today.
There’s no doubt about why Campagnolo is known for its roasted beef marrow…because its fantastic. The buttery, rich flavour of the marrow is sliced by a sweet and sour plum marmalade and spiced up with a tender oxtail stew. Its primitive presentation made me feel like a modern day carnivorous Fred Flintstone, although I was wearing shoes.
The rabbit cavetelli was another gem. A good portion of rabbit was braised to perfection and served in a vibrant, light sauce and finished with a few greens, a few pine nuts and salty cheese. The pasta had the softness of a firm pillow, sending my tongue into a slumberful bliss. On that note, I will mention that my other party member sent the spaghetti back, finding it too firm. The kitchen quickly made another and “overcooked” it according to the kitchen but importantly made the customer’s desire paramount vs the chef’s wishes. I appreciated the “nobody’s wrong…we just differ in opinion” mentality and guarantee this would not happen at a few of the other eateries in the area.
Another signature item is the burrata served with roasted grapes to add some subtle sweetness to the rich cheese. It was satisfying and simple to the point where the obvious quality of the product is not compromised by too many bells and whistles.
If you’re going to ask me to pay for bread at the table, it better be good. The homemade bagettes and gougeres (cheese pastries) were delicious but for four bucks were not significantly better than some of the complimentary loaves available at other places.
The shaved cauliflower salad was a seasonal offering. Despite the attractive presentation and array of ingredients, the sulphuric taste of the cauliflower was too prevalent. Whatever dressing was used in an attempt to unify this adventurous amalgam was off key. That being said, my table mate disagreed and thought the salad has a fresh and balanced taste.
Some restaurants are not known for dessert and don’t have the same passion toward the concluding course. I suspect Campagnolo fits this bill. With no dessert menu per se, we were offered a couple of choices and settled on the budino (caramel pudding). It was a cloying concoction, topped with an ashy tasting sponge toffee. Two bites were enough.
The wine menu is quite small and quite expensive. It’s difficult to find a red under $12 a glass. The white list is a little more reasonable in price but still limited in choice. In the end, I opted for mulled wine on the cocktail list which was a more modest $12 and offered welcome relief from the ongoing draft running up my back.
Campagnolo relies on a moderately sized menu of signature and seasonal items to fill its modest sized dining area. It’s trendy, in demand and has received accolades from critics and diners alike, although it flies a bit under the radar on online social media sites. The service was top-notch, friendly and informative other than a moderate delay between starters and mains. Despite an uncompromising approach to food, there is enough flexibility for the customer to be right despite differences in opinion with the kitchen. They don’t apologize but make it right which is more important than offering comped drinks I don’t want. Bring your wallet though; it’s not a cheap evening out. In the end, Campagnolo is cool, crass and comforting and does so by adhering to their country bumpkin philosophy in a classy fashion.