Oh happy, happy me. I’m sitting in a buzzy Clerkenwell outpost by the name of Fidelio Orchestra Café, listening to my first round of classical music since the L-word rocked into town and threw café owners and musicians alike into creative and financial disarray. So, it particularly warms the heart (and ears) to see Fidelio Café’s musical doors wide open with the merry popping of bottles, the clink of glass and the lively hum of human beings who are out on a social – and clearly very excited about the evening ahead.
Fidelio Orchestra Café is no ordinary caff. It’s a regular café by day but at night, it transforms into an intimate, candlelit musical salon. A one-hour chamber musical performance is followed by a three-course dinner – or for those who prefer a lighter version, there’s an intermezzo option which includes a drink and concert.
Fidelio Café was conceived by Italian-born Raffaello Morales, a pianist cum conductor cum banker who studied theoretical physics and applied mathematics. Clearly not short on the braincell front, he came up with an appealing dinner concert formula which, judging by the full house tonight, appears to be very successful.
We tuck into apéritifs and nibbles before Morales and chef Adrian Watters give the audience a heads up on the format of the evening. First up is the one-hour concert. A three-course dinner follows which consists of half a roasted red pepper with melted burrata and pesto and a confit duck leg with crispy skin, frisée, lentils and lardons. There’s a spicy aubergine cake if you’re vegetarian, and dessert is a homemade posset with popping candy. I will be tucking into a mouth-watering gluten and dairy-free menu, especially concocted by chef Watters for tricky me.
The fantastic selection of wines has evidently been curated by a connoisseur. We choose a Baglio Antico Catarratto, an unfiltered and organic orange wine that bursts with minerality and tastes almost volcanic.
Morales gives us a musical synopsis, starting with a fun anecdote about the Mozartian piece, the composer’s debut violin sonata in B-flat performed in front of Emperor Joseph II. In his haste, Mozart came without his sheet music and so had to perform the piece from memory, pretending instead to read from a blank. The Emperor, armed with opera glasses, could plainly see that Mozart did not have sheet music, but the rest of the audience was successfully fooled.
And so, the music starts. We’re here to see Francesca Dego, a London-based Italian violinist who is fast becoming one of the most sought-after violinists in the world, and Francesca Leonardi, the first Italian female pianist to record for the prestigious Deutsche Grammophone label. The two Francescas have been collaborating for sixteen years, and their spellbinding programme includes Mozart’s Violin Sonata K 454 in B flat major, Busoni’s Violin Sonata no 2 op 36a in E minor and Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Figaro Paraphrase on Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
There are several generous encores, much thunderous applause, and the ladies stay for dinner, mingling with the guests like long-lost friends. It’s a charming, effervescent evening, and as we leave the twinkling café lights behind us to head home, I know I will be back soon for an encore or two. Clever Morales, I say, and you know what: Fidelio Café can string me along any time.
About Fidelio Orchestra Café
Fidelio Café is open Monday to Friday 8am to 3pm. Concerts are scheduled from 7pm to 11pm several times a week. Check the programme here. Forthcoming concerts include Angela Hewitt and Imogen Cooper (wow and wow), and look out for the café’s Saturday classical brunches.
Standard tickets: £100 includes the concert, a welcome glass of prosecco and a three-course dinner.
Intermezzos tickets: £15 includes one drink of choice and the full concert from the Fidelio lounge with a standing or restricted view.
Under 30: 50% discount for guests aged up to 30 years old for the full concert and three-course dining experience.
Up Close and Musical at Fidelio Café
The Up Close and Musical includes a series of live performances which focus on the performers’ personal narratives with the aim of bringing audiences closer to music and the people who make it. All events include a candid conversation with each artist and are scheduled around meals and drinks to facilitate spontaneous interaction with the artists. Enjoy some of the best names in classical, jazz, contemporary and electronica, and discover more of the world of music through encounters with musical entrepreneurs, journalists and composers. Prices vary. Check the website here.
Fidelio Orchestra Café, 91-95 Clerkenwell Rd, London EC1R 5BX. Website.
I was a guest of Fidelio Orchestra Café. As always, opinions are entirely my own.