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.

Birra Moretti

As well as liking real ales I also do like Italian beers, especially when I am eating Italian food. I have always thought when eating a particular cuisine that you drink what would be drunk with that cuisine in that country. So when I was eating an Italian meal recently at a branch of Bella Italia I took the opportunity to have an Italian beer, this time I had a Birra Moretti.

Birra

This was a very nice Italian beer, full of flavour and perfect with the Italian food and Italian-esque atmosphere. It was stronger in flavour than some Italian lagers.

Calamari

Once place I do seem to frequent a fair bit, is Bella Italia. Mainly as it is convenient and also they accept Tesco Clubcard deals. Yes it is a chain and they probably use some kind of step system for cooking, but compared to some traditional Italian places I have eaten it isn’t that bad.

One thing I seem to order from the menu a lot is the calamari.

They coat it in parmesan before deep frying it. Sometimes it can be overcooked (not how I like it) but generally they do get it right.

I also quite like the pasta and pizza at Bella Italia too.

Bella Italia

I quite like Bella Italia, yes I know it is a chain and they use a range of pre-made ingredients in their cooking and it’s all systems and less about flair and passion. Even having said that compared to other places I enjoy the food, the service, the atmosphere and the Italian’ess.

I was there on Monday for lunch and had an enjoyable meal. I started with the calamari and unlike other places which serve pre-cooked rubbery squid rings, at Bella Italia they do use the whole squid. However they do seem to overcook it, it would  be much better if they cooked for half the time that they do. Still nice, but not how I like it. It arrived with lemon and mayonnaise.

I had pizza for my main course, a Quattro Stagioni, the four seasons; pepperoni, smoked ham, roasted mushrooms and artichokes. It was quite nice, I prefer the pizza from Pizza Express, but this is so much better than the pizzas you can get in other (so-called) pizza eateries. The smoked ham was too salty for me, so that went off, but the mushrooms and artichokes were done well. The pizza base was just right, thin and not too crispy or too soggy. The tomato sauce was slightly too salty, but did taste of tomates. I would have liked a little more cheese.

The pasta dish ordered by my other half was very nice as well, Penne Funghi Pancetta. which was pancetta bacon, mushrooms and penne pasta sauteed in a creamy cheese sauce.

We had soft drinks and left before we could have coffee as we were pushed for time.

The service was fine, though it did take a little time for our main courses to arrive, and it felt like they had been waiting for a while.

Overall it was a nice place for lunch and I would make a return visit.