“ Bella Italia restaurant on The Strand in London. „
You know that the Italians have pride in their homeland culinary traditions, so it makes sense to emulate this factor within the eating establishment called Bella Italia - they span all across Great Britain. 'Bella Italia' is spoken in all English dialects, the only two Italian words that'll ever pass the lips of most British denizens. Though I distinctly recall uttering the words 'Bella Italia' while in Bella 'Pasta' midway through 2001. I sang out "Bella Italia" like an Englishman trying to be Italian, after several flutes of Chianti. Little did I know Michael the owner must've been on an adjacent table - fifteen months later in 2002 , I looked curiously at the new 'Bella' branding and thought - how incredibly familiar this sounds. The idiosyncratic coincidence lost my custom for a while and I'd choose 'Jamie's Italian' or 'Ask' instead. Roman walls do have ears it seemed; regardless of logistics. What I did observe at The Strand arm of the establishment, staff were of all nationalities, working, resting or slaying the dough, within the restaurant's four walls. Last week I paid a visit, I entered as a hungry man - stomach ruled over my head - I promised myself not to sing out Italian random words. Being modelled on an authentic Italian restaurant experience, I was seated in the central dining area - all of my ground floors dining counterparts were in ear-shot of every murmur, grunt and molar grind. The layout replicated the plethora of close-knit tables and restaurants that semi circled around 'Agrippa's Pantheon' in Rome; a paradigm of controlled chaos - the seating arrangement were designed as if they're catering for a large Italian family meal. Knees knocking against each other, notably tactile - very friendly atmosphere, just how Mama likes it.. ! On the plus side, in Bella Italia you don't have problems with knocking knees as such; I just found the wooden tables were manufactured to the proportions of Frankie Dettori - I could've eaten a horse.
There was a friendly ambiance, a reassuring hive of activity that gave me confidence all was going to be fine, perhaps it was the clustered Latin nostalgia on exhibition, 'Bella's art-buyer went on a Rome market spending spree to populate walls - Well, it worked. The décor implied old traditional concepts; completely different to 'Bella Pasta' of olds ultra spacious dining areas with pointless partitioned off four foot walls and ledges and garnished with impersonal large manufactured prints. The Strand's interior did manifest a Latin illusion; evidence that research of how the Romans do it certainly paid dividends. They've adapted this treatment to the other 80 Bella Italia outlets across Britain according to staff the brand had a revamp seven years ago - the Italian food consortium had 200 food establishments - proof that a grandiose establishment populous doesn't necessary mean better quality.
My antipasto of garlic bastioni arrived in sync with my small espresso accompanied with tap water. You can't go wrong with garlic bread and a parsley dip, gladly they didn't. I don't know why but I get a distinct sense of warmth from the staff when Italian bread is served - gratitude perhaps this is a result of choosing authentic Italian dishes and as the restaurant emulates this - My reciprocation is rewarded. A swift tasty antipasto with an equally swift table clearance, it appeared a team of highly qualified table-watchers were behind the scenes operating the dining floor to the level of a 'F1' tyre switch. The agnello tagliatelle got the green light and I was on my second circuit. My glass of tap water was refilled and I got an extra napkin for asking for a free refill. Normally I despair with over attentive service which usually means they've got nothing else to occupy their minds or hands or have the imagination to invent a sporadic check to see if the windows are transparent, or to greet those who're meandering at outside's menu. "Hello, we are expecting the actor a mister Raymondo Winstone to join our happy diners this eve-even-ing, why I am ere to greet; table for two?" Worth a bet it would work. Not that such tactics were required that day, the lunchtime diners were more than enough to keep staff occupied.
Portion control was out in force, so my option of having a starter paid off - I wasn't disappointed with my lamb and rich wine sauce amalgamated with tagliatelle, it tasted how it should've been and the lamb had been professionally cooked under a low heat for the proper duration, but I couldn't help but feel the resonant of the Bella Pasta of old still lived on at the core. If, the Italians gauge a happy diner by a clean plate, it is misleading on the premise customers wine and dine because they're famished, they'll eat the banality dishes quite happily - they've done much to warrant a pleasurable experience, alas, I don't rate banality. Imperialism still resides in these four walls, you cannot see it - Bella Italia nearly had me fooled. The pricing, the amenities, general cleanliness and zero hour staff courtesy and efficiency all good - hence, worthy of the 30 GBP fee (inclusive of tip). Due to being aware of my growing physique I didn't opt for a mediocre dessert, it wouldn't have been worth the additional fat and sugar deposits. Now if it was on a sweet trolley wheeled around by a four foot ten inch sweet Italian nonagenarian just as they do in Rome's Old Town, my arm could be twisted. Maybe a quiet word to the Bella Italia wall could make it a truly authentic Italian experience - I hasten a guess Bella has selective hearing; my next scheduled visit is late 2019.
Beauty is only skin deep. Three stars.©1st2thebar 2013
NOT VERY BEAUTIFUL (for mum and dad)
In April, my husband and I took our daughter to see the musical Sweeney Todd which was showing at The Adelphi Theatre in London's Strand. This was her birthday treat. We went to a Saturday matinée performance and, after seeing the show, we walked around Covent Garden. We looked for somewhere to have dinner before our daughter had to travel back to her university accommodation and we went home. My husband and I have different ideas to our teenaged daughter to what a good meal is. She likes Italian food and so do I but my husband isn't as keen. However, I'm in agreement with my husband that Bella Italia isn't up to very much. But after finding most places full we decided to give in and so went into Bella Italia in Covent Garden, only to find that like other restaurants in the vicinity, it was full and we were informed that the wait for a table would be at least an hour or more.
We then walked away from the very busy Covent Garden and agreed to see if we could get a table at Bella Italia in the nearby Strand.
It's only a short walk from Covent Garden Piazza to The Strand. This Bella Italia restaurant although busy wasn't as full as the one in Covent Garden and on entering we were told a table would be available downstairs in a few minutes and so we were taken down the stairs by a waitress and handed over to another waitress.
This restaurant was busy and rather noisy. The tables downstairs were arranged close to each other and I thought it looked far too crammed to make for a pleasant dining experience but we were relieved to find somewhere to eat, especially as it was now getting later than we had intended to have our meal.
Our table was prepared quickly while we stood and waited. There were only three of us but the table, although big enough for four, gave little option as to where to sit and as I hesitated before sitting down, wondering where would be the most comfortable and avoid my chair knocking on to a diner at the nearest table, I was advised by our waitress that I would be better sitting the other side nearer to the other tables as the other side was close to the area where the waiting staff rushed by.
It was obvious that the layout of tables was designed to fit as many in as possible.
We were asked if we were ready to order in a ridiculously quick time and to me it seemed obvious that here a quick turnaround of diners was the aim. We asked if we could order drinks before we ordered our food.
Our waitress took our drinks order fairly quickly and the drinks arrived to our table quite soon too.
As usual my daughter wanted cola as her drink and had two glasses of this over the course of our meal.
Wine can be ordered as a 125ml glass (but this size isn't shown on the menu but can be ordered), 175ml or 250ml or a bottle.
I chose a 175 ml glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, (Castellani, Venezie) and this was priced at £5.00 for this size, £6.20 for the next size up and £17.60 for a bottle. There were a few cheaper red wines on the wine menu. I enjoyed the wine, as I usually do.
My husband ordered a draught lager.
We perused the menu as we sipped at our drinks. I like the fact that vegetarian options are clearly shown on the menu; although I think as this is an Italian restaurant there could be a larger choice of vegetarian pastas which could be enjoyed by both vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. It is also good that Bella Italia offer some gluten free dishes although they do warn ( www.bellaitalia.co.uk/menus/the-strand-/):
"While every precaution is taken to guarantee the integrity of these meals, please note that our kitchens and restaurant are not gluten free and, due to the nature of our business, we cannot guarantee 100% 'free from'."
Also, in the case of nuts the same will apply; products may contain traces. Also with vegetarian dishes there isn't a dedicated vegetarian kitchen and so traces of meat could possible end up on one's plate.
There weren't many children dining here when we ate here although I expect they get their fair share at times. There is a children's menu and an offer of £5.25 for an antipastini, main course, dessert and drink with an activity book for youngsters to help keep them entertained. Some children's dishes are said to be gluten free.
My daughter is familiar with the menu and she chose her meal quickly. As I don't eat meat I think it's harder to find something that appeals so I took a little longer to choose and so did my husband (but this was probably more down to the fact that he hadn't brought along his reading glasses and wanted a few things read to him). We managed to choose two courses each (starter and main course) after about ten minutes. Of course, now we were ready to order our waitress couldn't be seen but I couldn't blame her as the staff here were obviously rushed off their feet. We didn't wait too long though until we saw her and managed to catch her eye.
I chose Italian olives in garlic at £2.25. When these came up I found them quite bland and probably not any better than the value type olives which come in a jar from supermarkets. These olives weren't pitted and they really were just okay.
My husband chose Bruschetta (Plum tomatoes, rocket, red onion, garlic, olive oil and fresh basil on toasted ciabatta) and this was priced at £4.95. His opinion was that it was dry and just about average. Looking at it id did look dry and not very appetising.
Our daughter chose mini garlic bastion which is small batons of bread served with a melted garlic and parsley dip. This was priced at £3.95 or £5.75 for a sharing portion. She enjoyed this and there was enough for my husband and myself to try.
For my main course I chose Cannelloni Ricotta which was priced at £8.95 for one serving or at £15.00 for a sharing sized portion. I think it is a good idea that there are some sharing dishes offered, especially when in larger group as then more choices can be sampled.
I also chose a side salad of Insalata Mista to accompany this as cannelloni and indeed lasagne are usually served alone and aren't usually large in size. The salad is a mixed leaf salad of baby plum tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and olives with rosemary and balsamic dressing. This cost £3.75. I thought this sounded nice but when it come up it didn't look very good and mainly consisted of cucumber which I don't like. I did note that there was cucumber with this salad but thought it would be easy to just pick out the cucumber and enjoy the rest but once the large slices of cucumber had gone there wasn't much left. I thought the cannelloni was quite nice.
As my husband isn't overly keen on Italian food he chose something he thought would be a safe choice and went for the Burger Americano which is a char-grilled beef burger in a bun garnished with baby gem lettuce leaves, tomato, red onion and mayonnaise. This is served with chips, tomato and an onion relish. Now this did look nice and I watched my husband bite into it and was waiting until he'd finished chewing to ask if this was juicier and nicer than his first choice, but before the words were out of my mouth, he looked at it in disgust and showed me that it was raw- indeed extremely raw and bloody. At times like these I feel glad that I don't eat meat. My husband isn't one to complain in restaurants (he'll just moan to me after!) but no way could he consume this burger. I called the waitress over and he showed her the burger. She took it back to the kitchen and he waited for another burger to be cooked and served. Of course, this meant that my daughter and I had just about finished our meals when his second attempt arrived.
My daughter's choice was Spaghetti Bolognese. No problems here; she enjoyed and ate it all with enthusiasm. Well, she is a student! This cost £8.75.
We didn't have desserts. It is rare for me and my husband to have desserts both having more of a savoury tooth but our daughter often does but she needed to leave soon and so declined. However there are a good choice of desserts offered her ranging from mini desserts to the more filling cakes and pastries and ice cream.
Service was rushed and waiting staff far too busy. Waiting and bar staff seemed to be mostly Eastern Europeans. We found the staff that we encountered to be very polite but definitely overworked. We asked for the bill but it took a while coming as the place was so busy. I think at busy times Bella Italia need more staff, well at this branch at least.
I can only speak of the downstairs toilets. As the restaurant was busy so were the lavatories and there was a short queue. The toilets were nicely decorated but as they were so 'used' and didn't have windows (basement level) I can only say they weren't what I would call 'fresh.'
The Strand branch of Bella Italia is only a short walk to Covent Garden and Trafalgar square and therefore close to London's theatre land and sightseeing. Many buses run past the restaurant and it is close to underground train stations.
Telephone: 020 7839 3705
Sun - Thu:
9.00am - 11.00pm
Fri - Sat:
9.00am - 12.00am
I dined downstairs which wouldn't be suitable for those with mobility problems unless very slight. But dining in the ground level part of the restaurant would be accessible.
The restaurant offers accessible toilets and a large print menu.
I don't consider Bella Italia to be expensive seemingly, but when taking into account the blandness of many of the dishes then, in my opinion, it certainly is not good value for money. I would think that branches could vary quite a lot though, in many respects. And then also, because my husband's meal was inedible and had to be replaced, I think we should have been given a refund. I did tell my husband that he should have asked for a discount on our bill but he wouldn't do this and didn't want me to; we were in a hurry and he knows that I will stand my ground for a long time if I need to. Mind you, I paid for this treat and so I suppose really I SHOULD have asked!
All in all I would say that this wasn't a particularly pleasurable dining experience in terms of ambience and food quality. Poor value really and not at all good enough.
In my opinion this restaurant gave us average and fairly bland food.
Another thing I didn't like was that where our table was situated meant that people waiting for a table stood close by and we were continually watched by would be diners who were obviously hoping we would be leaving so they could secure our table. It would have been much nicer here if there was a larger area for customers to wait rather than stand so close to diners.
I would say that this branch of Bella Italia is mediocre and doesn't offer great value. If my husband and I were dining without our daughter we would never choose Bella Italia as we both feel that it is overpriced for what it is