Time for a cheaper pizza

In the past we’ve had some good experiences at the Bella Italia at Cribbs Causeway and we’ve had some pretty poor ones too. We have been there a number of times, and they have revamped the places a few times over the years. Now it has a more of an American diner feel to it, rather than the Italian restaurant style it had before.

One of the key reasons we decided to return to eat was that we had a special offer. We used an offer code, so we only paid five pounds for each dish, which made the whole meal very good value for money.

Though we had to wait for a while, we were once our table was ready we were given a warm and friendly welcome and and it was quick and easy to place our order.

I ordered the Funghi Luganica – A ‘white pizza’ with a mascarpone and porcini base, topped with garlic & thyme chestnut mushrooms, pancetta, Luganica sausage and mozzarella.

unghi Luganica - A ‘white pizza’ with a mascarpone and porcini base, topped with garlic & thyme chestnut mushrooms, pancetta, Luganica sausage and mozzarella.

I’ve had this pizza before at Bella Italia and I enjoyed it last time, and I enjoyed it this time as well. The base is mushroomy (is that a word) and savoury, over the traditional tomato that you find on most pizza. The chunks of mushroom on the pizza were very nice and I really enjoyed them.

My son had the Queen Margherita pizza. Tomato and mozzarella base, oven-baked then topped with torn bufala mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, rocket and green pesto.

Queen Margherita pizza. Tomato and mozzarella base, oven-baked then topped with torn bufala mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, rocket and green pesto.

This looked great and he said it was fresh and tasty. It was finished off, which doesn’t always happen.

My wife had the fresh egg tagliatelle in a tasty carbonara sauce with crispy pancetta and leeks.

fresh egg tagliatelle in a tasty carbonara sauce with crispy pancetta and leeks.

However this didn’t look anything like the picture on the menu on the website when we got home, where are the leeks? Having said that she did say the pasta was very tasty.

Service was mixed, our main waiter was warm and friendly, but other staff looked rushed and flustered.

Overall though we had an enjoyable dining experience.

A lunchtime Calzone

Taking lunch at Bella Italia in South Kensington the other week, I decided that I would go down the Calzone route.

Calzone and salad

Bella Italia in South Kensington is a short walk from the Science Museum, which we had just visited. The lunch menus inside the museum cafés looked interesting, but my children’s choices were quite limited. Can be quite a challenge for eating out, when your youngest is adamant she is going to eat nothing unless it was pizza!

If you have visited a Bella Italia in most parts of the country, you probably have gone in quite a large spacious restaurant, the one in South Kensington is very small in comparison over two floors, probably only a third of the covers you would find another Bella Italia. This one did though look much more inviting and cosy than others I have been in.

We were seated upstairs and decided to partake the lunch menu, at £7.95 for one course, this was two pounds more than the same menu, for example in Bristol. This London weighting probably pays for the higher rental costs and high staff costs, though less value for money was a result.

Looking over the menu, I decided upon the Calzone Diavola. This is described in the menu as “The perfect portion for lunchtime with N’duja sausage and pepperoni, chicken breast, cherry bell peppers, green chillies, red onion and mozzarella on a spicy arrabbiata base, served with mixed salad and arrabbiata dip.”

I was quite surprised when it arrived the find the edges were crimped like a pasty.

The pizza “base” was well cooked, crisp on the outside and soft inside. The filling was spicy and tasty, but I did feel it wasn’t that generous. Now I am not sure if that was because this was the “lunch menu” version or if this was the size it was. The salad was nice, but I don’t think I did get the arrabbiata dip!

So what about the service, well they were obviously under staffed, the waiters were trying their best, but the whole service from start to finish took a really long time, this wasn’t going to be a quick meal. They also slightly messed up our order, though that was quickly rectified.

Overall I enjoyed the Calzone, and even at £7.95, thought it was good value for money, alas it was a pity that the place was so under staffed and as a result the service suffered.

So what about the food?

In one of my previous blog posts I talked about the quality of the service at a recent visit to Bell Italia, so what about the food?

Well my wife had ordered the Formaggio di Capra, which is described on the menu as melting goat’s cheese and red pepper tapenade on giant ciabatta croutons, with baby spinach, rocket, green beans, caramelised onions, roasted red peppers, olives and fresh basil in a rosemary balsamic dressing.

Formaggio di Capra

This she really enjoyed, it was a really nice dish. She let me try one of the ciabatta croutons, It had lots of flavour and I liked the combination of flavours and textures. The salad was fresh and colourful.

I had ordered the Double Americano this was two chargrilled Aberdeen Angus beef burgers with baby gem, tomatoes, red onion and mayonnaise.

Double Burger

The last time I had a burger at Bella Italia it was really good, to tasted great, so my expectations were quite high. Alas it was slightly overdone, not so much to send it back (what with the service we had been getting, I didn’t really see the point) but enough to slightly mar the enjoyment of the dish.

My son went with a dish he had before, Gamberoni, described on the menu as eight succulent king prawns sautéed with spaghetti, garlic and chilli in a spicy pomodoro sauce.

Gamberoni

He really enjoyed the dish, the pasta was cooked well, still al dente and not overcooked, the sauce was tomatoey and nice and spicy. He also got a lot more than eight prawns, however they were pre-cooked and not done as described in the menu, or how he had them before. As before it wasn’t reason enough to send the dish back, he also really enjoyed eating it.

Overall the food was okay, it could have been better, but as I mentioned in my previous blog post, the real issue for us with the meal was the service.

Now that’s not what I call service!

Bella Italia

Maybe I am just getting old, or maybe I am getting more demanding, or maybe I just expect politeness and respect. We recently made a visit to Bella Italia at Cribbs, it’s somewhere we go quite often and in the past have had really nice meals and excellent service.

Our most recent visit though the lack of service, has really put us off visiting again. I did complain to head office and they did send a response, which I was satisfied with.

The main thrust of my complaint was that we as customers were seen as an inconvenience and were getting in the way of people doing their jobs. One example was that we weren’t shown to the table we had booked, but told it “was over there”. It wasn’t as though the place was busy, in fact quite the opposite it was virtually empty. It would have taken less than 30 seconds to escort us to our table, not much effort, but as a result a much nicer experience for us.

Here’s another example, as we waited for our food, by this time there were more people in the restaurant, the place started to fill with smoke from the grill. It wasn’t very pleasant as you might imagine.

As there was more smoke, people who hadn’t ordered started to get up and leave.One of the waiting staff did come and give us an explanation, what she said was “they had to leave the back door open as they were having a delivery, and this was blowing smoke through the restaurant”.

For me this isn’t good enough. The explanation implies that to happens often, so why not schedule deliveries earlier in the day, rather than over the peak lunchtime period? Also rather than leave the door open, why not have a member of staff at the door, who will open as and when needed to reduce the amount of smoke. You know why that didn’t happen? As it was easier to prop the door open!

Sometimes it is the little things that can make a big difference. I should point out that there were other things that we weren’t happy with during our visit including some quite dangerous serving of hot drinks, that culminated with me filling in the web feedback form when we got home.

More importantly it has made us decide that we probably won’t go there again, which says a lot.

Well that was a really nice pizza

On a recent visit to Cabot Circus we looked at where to eat, slightly constrained as were using some Tesco vouchers. We were restricted to Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge or Strada.

Strada was out of the running as it was up in Clifton Village. After our last experience at Bella Italia in Cabot, we made the decision to go to Cafe Rouge. However a quick look over the menu, meant though fine for most of us, there wasn’t anything that appealed to the two youngest members of our party. They were dead set on having pizza and spaghetti bolognese. No new tastes for them today, so a little downhearted we went to Bella Italia.

On our last visit to this branch, writing about it I said

Overall it wasn’t a bad experience, but on reflection I don’t think we will go again to that branch, I do expect that we will probably go to the Cribbs branch though.

We did venture to the Cribbs branch after that meal and had a much better experience. I suspect that did influence how we felt about going to the Cabot Circus branch.

It was just after noon on a Saturday and the place was already buzzing. Nando’s next door was already full! As we ate our meal the place to busier and fuller, even the outside tables were full (despite it been quite cold and windy, even for May). I noticed as we left too how busy everywhere was.

What I have noticed more and more is how few places seem to be able to cope with five people. Plenty of tables for twos and fours, but very little for five. I think in the future we will probably need to be more planned and book tables in advance otherwise I think we could be disappointed, especially as how busy it eventually came.

Though the place was buzzing, it wasn’t that busy, but it took ages for the menus to appear, in the end I actually needed to ask for them. We took our time and when asked what drinks we wanted we were ready to order the food.

So what of the meal?

Well I was pleased to see that they had a special chalked on their blackboard and I went with that. This was Pizza Argosta that was topped with lobster, saffron, harrisa, red peppers, courgettes, parsley and rosemary. I also thought very reasonably priced at £8.95.

This was a thin crust pizza (as they usually are at Bella Italia) that was well cooked and very well presented.

Pizza Argosta that was topped with lobster, saffron, harrisa, red peppers, courgettes, parsley and rosemary.

There was a good potion of toppings and you didn’t feel anything was missing (well apart from the rosemary). The lobster tasted of lobster, the saffron was certainly apparent, both in taste and colour. I liked the thinly sliced courgette which was just cooked and was delicious. Overall a really nice different pizza and very tasty.

My wife went with the Formaggio di Capra. This was a salad made with melting goat’s cheese and red pepper tapenade on giant ciabatta croutons. Along with baby spinach, rocket, green beans, caramelised onions, roasted red peppers, olives and fresh basil in a rosemary balsamic dressing.

Formaggio di Capra

She initially thought it was a little on the large side, but she enjoyed it and polished it off. I thought it was really good value for £8.95.

My son at his last visit to Bella Italia had gone with the Gamberoni at £9.95, that is described on the menu as eight succulent king prawns sautéed with spaghetti, garlic and chilli in a spicy pomodoro sauce. He decided to go down the route again and ordered it.

Gamberoni

I did think it was better presented the last time he had it. My son really enjoyed the dish again though, and finished it all off.

As for the pizza for the youngest, well that was in my opinion on the small side, but was enjoyed. I think if your child is older then eight or nine they would find that pizza too small. My youngest is four so was just right for lunch.

Pizza

The spaghetti bolognese was also enjoyed by my middle one especially as he got a nice generous portion of parmesan on top.

I don’t usually eat puddings, but sometimes it’s nice to share and we went with the Godfather. According to the online menu, this contains nutty fudge brownies, vanilla and chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh cream, chocolate popping candy, dark chocolate sprinkles and a wafer curl. According to the menu we actually read in the restaurant it said honeycomb ice cream. We did get vanilla, but no chocolate popping candy. At this point the staff were very busy and it was only a minor thing, so couldn’t be bothered to make a fuss. I am not even sure I like the popping candy, so probably a better dish for it.

The only challenge was to pay the bill, and I was left standing for ages before I could pay the bill. That was disappointing.

Overall the food was very good and enjoyed by all, really well presented and cooked. Service was adequate, yes they were busy and apart from some minor glitches, was okay. However nothing to write home about, we have had much better service at other places. Would we go again? Yes I think we would.

Bella Bella

Bella Italia

My last experience with Bella Italia was rather a disappointment, so with a little trepidation we went there for dinner, though this time it was a much better experience.

When we had arrived the place was quite empty, well it was after 4pm and you wouldn’t expect it to be that busy. What I didn’t realise when we left just before 6pm the place was buzzing and pretty much full. It certainly didn’t feel like that sitting down, I suspect the main reason is that this branch of Bella Italia is very much zoned into different areas, with clever use of walls and bannisters (or railings) though the place is quite big, you actually feel you are in a much smaller cosier venue. Compare this with the Bella Italia at Cabot Circus which is smaller, but feels much bigger and more open, and as a result less cosy.

There was a different menu to the time we last went and I would say that I was certainly less inspired. It felt a little more bland and corporate than previous visits, but that doesn’t mean it is, it just felt that way.

As a last minute choice I went with a starter and chose, despite my plan to be choosing different things, I went with the calamari at £5.95. Lightly breaded and deep fried tender squid, with lemon and caper mayonnaise. The squid was tender, but I have had much nicer squid at Bella Italia. It was apparent they had changed the recipe (well probably supplier). The last time I had the squid it included the tentacles as well as pieces of squid, and they were covered in a parmesan batter. This time they were rings and were breaded rather than battered. The only criticism I would make back then was that sometimes they overcooked the squid, this time though with the new recipe they didn’t.

So what about the main courses?

My son decided to go with the Gamberoni at £9.95, that is described on the menu as eight succulent king prawns sautéed with spaghetti, garlic and chilli in a spicy pomodoro sauce. As with a previous experience the waiting staff did ask if he wanted the chilli to which he replied yes. I find it amusing that they say eight prawns, obviously a combination of marketing the dish, and making sure that people don’t complain about the number of prawns! My son really enjoyed the dish and finished it all off.

After a lot of thought I went with the Formaggio Double Burger at £12.95, described in the menu as a double Americano with melted mozzarella, parmesan and gorgonzola cheese. It was served in a soft ciabatta bun with fries and smoked tomato and onion relish.

Firstly if they are chips, they are not fries! Fries are thin and skinny and the chips are chunky. These were chunky! The best way to describe them was as okay, they weren’t awful, but they were certainly not the best chips I had. Reflecting on this I think the problem was they were quite tasteless.

The burger though on the other hand was delicious. I was very impressed with the flavour and the texture. It was just how I like it. When I compare this one, the last time I had a burger at the Holiday Inn Express. When I ordered it, I was a little concerned that the three cheeses would overpower the dish, but that wasn’t the case, they complemented the burgers really well.

My wife went with the Portobello Mushroom Burger, which was a portobello mushroom, with goat’s cheese, roasted red pepper and onion, baby gem leaves, tomato and mayonnaise, served in a soft ciabatta bun. What I found funny was that she thought this was just the topping on a regular burger, she didn’t realise that the mushroom was the burger. Despite that “mistake” she really enjoyed it, she said it was delicious and the really liked the goat’s cheese.

My two younger children went with the pizza and spaghetti bolognese and both of them really enjoyed their food and ate a lot of it.

As for service, well I would say that the place got it just right. We had really good service throughout the meal.

Bella’ish

Cabot Circus

I do find it interesting how different branches of the same chain can, despite similar decor and identical menus, be such different dining experiences.

Bella Italia is one such beast, where I’ve had such diverse experiences at different branches. We usually go to Bella Italia at Cribbs Causeway and have had many lovely meals there. A recent experience at the branch at Cabot Circus was not as good. I should be clear that it wasn’t a horrible experience, just not as good I expected based on my experiences at the Cribbs branch.

So what was so different?



Well the first thing was the quality of the service, it was just okay, but I we didn’t feel the warmth of the welcome we’ve had elsewhere. I think part of the issue was that the place was really busy and the staff were pretty much rushed off their feet. That was another aspect that I felt was markedly different, was the atmosphere, the place was pretty much full and as a result felt very rushed and busy. However it doesn’t always have to be that way, eating at the Coal Grill and Bar the other day, which was in many ways just as busy, it didn’t feel busy and we didn’t feel rushed. The staff appeared to be calm and smiling, making us feel welcome, all of which added to a much better dining experience.

After observing an argument in the open kitchen between the head chef and I assume the branch manager in full view of the eating customers, I did wonder whether there was a staffing issue that wasn’t been resolved?

As you might expect with a full restaurant it took a little while for the food to appear, but I was disappointed that my son’s meal was delayed so he had to wait. True it was only about five minutes, but still… The reason it was delayed, and as I could see the kitchen and the service counter, was that his plate of food was served up with ours, but one of the waiting staff took it away and delivered it to another table. As a result the chef had to cook a fresh dish.

What about the food?



Well the Quattro Stagoni Pizza we shared was very nice, good quality pizza base, nice sauce, not too much cheese and generous toppings, well not too little and not too much, just right.

My two eldest children enjoyed their pasta dishes, though my youngest was disappointed with her pizza. She had ordered from the child’s menu, so we knew it wouldn’t be a huge pizza. However when it arrived it was really quite small, 7” probably in diameter. Having had the same menu item at Cribbs, this was very different, they had much larger children’s pizza. Ah well, different branch, maybe a new menu, cutting costs and all that.

We were asked if everything was okay, and at that time it was, so we said yes. What changed was the family at the table next to us some time later, received their children’s pizzas and they were at least 11” in diameter! We checked with the family, and yes they had ordered children’s pizza.

When we did get the bill, we did query this, and I have to give Bella Italia their credit that they did agree with us that this wasn’t right, as a result they reduced the bill and gave us a 1/3 off voucher for a future visit. I still though question the kitchen management and portion control that resulted in us receiving a pizza which was too small (and as it happens with the other family receiving pizzas which were too big).

Overall it wasn’t a bad experience, but on reflection I don’t think we will go again to that branch, I do expect that we will probably go to the Cribbs branch though.

Agnello Tagliatelle

Celebrating a birthday we went to Bella Italia at Cribbs Causeway for lunch. We did look at the menu at Frankie and Benny’s, but after our last experience there, we decided that actually it might be better to go somewhere else.

Entering the restaurant we were guided to our table, the place seemed very empty. However due to the design and layout of the restaurant, though noticeable there weren’t too many people in there, it didn’t feel empty and lonely, as some places can.

Looking over the menu, I did consider going with the cheaper fixed price lunchtime offering, but in the end I went with a pasta dish from the main menu. I chose the Agnello Tagliatelle, slow cooked lamb and red wine ragu with fresh egg tagliatelle and Parmesan shavings, from the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Agnello Tagliatelle

It looked great and was very tasty. The lamb and ragu had strong flavours that weren’t overpowering. The pasta was not overcooked and had texture. Certainly not the best fresh pasta I’ve had, but very good. My only real criticism was that the Parmesan shavings were a little too thick for my liking.

Service was initially very fast, but slowed down to a crawl by the time we asked for the bill! Overall a really nice dish and at £9.95 was very reasonable.

Birra Moretti

Lunch

Having enjoyed a recent lunch at Belle Italia I had a beer alongside it. I ordered a Birra Moretti and a very nice beer it was too. A a 4.6% abv pale lager. Very refreshing and a great accompaniment to the Italian food.

Selezione Classica

A quick lunch at Bella Italia was on the cards and not fancying pizza or pasta I went with a sharing platter all to myself…

Our selection of oven baked lemon & rosemary chicken wings, spiced meatballs, calamari, mini garlic filled calzoni and lightly battered courgettes served with flamed pepper and lemon herb dips.

I have talked before about platters, sometimes they consist of a bundle of stuff that was thrown into a deep fat fryer. This one from Bella Italia was more imaginative than most.

The chicken wings were, as I expected, reheated from cooked, but you could smell and taste the lemon and rosemary. The problem with reheating is that it changes the taste and texture of the chicken. Freshly cooked chicken wings are much more succulent and have more flavour and when you have had freshly cooked, you are always disappointed with the reheated versions. These, though reheated, were very nice, and it was also a nice change not have them covered in a sweet sticky sauce.

The meatballs were nice and spicy and were something I wasn’t expecting to find on the platter. They came in an earthenware tumbler and were covered in a pleasant tomato sauce.

The calamari were typical of the calamari at Bella Italia, covered in flour and deep fried. Slightly overcooked for my liking, but it was proper squid and not just rubbery rings as you find at some places. I do like calamari.

The mini garlic filled calzoni were simply small pizza bases, with garlic butter, folded and baked like a calzone pizza. Soft on the inside, but with crunchy edges, the garlic was subtle and complemented the bread.

The lightly battered courgettes, reminded me of a dish I had ordered on Kefalonia. Chunky strips of courgette, covered in a batter and deep fried. These were crispy on the outside and the courgette was lovely and tender, almost melt in the mouth on the inside. Really nice.

Overall I enjoyed my platter and would be happy to order it again.