There is no mistaking where Giancarlo Baldoni is from. His Italian accent is as thick as the tomato slices nestling in his focaccia sandwiches, which you can try for yourselves at Acqua Salata, the new pop up Italian takeaway outside Fat Lils in Witney.
Having teamed up with fellow Italian and chef Marcello Silva, the pair are doing a roaring trade in fresh pizza, pasta, sauces, sandwiches, cheese and charcuterie on Corn Street and enjoying every second.
“Our customers are our friends so we like to involve them”
“We are a little company which started a few months ago to bring something new from Italy to West Oxfordshire and it’s going very well,” Giancarlo says, beaming with pride. “We are surprised how quickly it’s taken off.”
Acqua Salata means salty water in Italian, “the most important thing you need to cook pasta properly,” Giancarlo reiterates, and is open from Wednesday to Sunday during lockdown.
Fat Lils lets the duo use their kitchens to make specialities such as arancini (fried rice balls with a delicious filling) and Torta al Testo.
So what is torta al testo? “It’s like pizza, and what people eat at parties and for snacks in Umbria where I’m from. We wanted to bring something new but traditional to Oxfordshire, something mouth-watering, and this is what my family eat when they get together,” Giancarlo says.
Everything is made from scratch by Marcello, who’s from Tuscany, and reflects their Italian roots, so the pizza, sauces, fresh pasta, pesto are all made by hand from Italian recipes using local products wherever possible, such as Mayfield eggs and Wessex Mill flour.
“There is nowhere else I’d rather be in the UK than witney and I wouldn’t change it for the world”
“Every town or village in Italy has their own traditional, regional, recipes so everything that comes out of our kitchen is made with passion and love. It’s a little corner of Italy in Oxfordshire to show how much we love Italian food,” Giancarlo adds.
The pair spend a lot of time researching and testing their ever-changing recipes before presenting them to their increasing fanbase in Witney to ensure the quality, taste and unique Italian flavours are evident.
“We always explain to our customers how to cook and prepare the products, and how they are made. Acqua Salata is as much about the origins of our food as how it tastes,” Giancarlo explains, “and we like to involve our customers, who have become our friends.”
However, Brexit has meant that sourcing Italian supplies is harder than normal: “Some of the ingredients are not things you can buy in a usual shop, but apart from that it’s going very well and the customers seem to like what we produce,” he says.
“acqua salata is a little corner of Italy in west Oxfordshire”
So why Witney? “Witney is home. I moved here in 2014 and then my family came and joined me. We are so happy here. Witney is a very nice town and we are more than happy here. It’s where I’m bringing up my children.
Giancarlo came to the UK to work in hospitality because there were no jobs in Italy, found work as a waiter and worked his way up to restaurant manager, while Marcello is a chef.
“There is nowhere else I’d rather be in the UK and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he adds.
As for the future, there is a goal, a dream, but Giancarlo is reluctant to expand: “We Italians are superstitious so we will wait and see. Marcello and I are working on it, put it that way,” he beams again, “because there is nothing like Acqua Salata around here so there is a lot of potential.”
In the meantime you can catch the Italian duo at Acqua Salata outside Fat Lil’s from Wednesday-Saturday 9am-5pm and 10am-4pm on Sunday.