One of my greatest loves about being a Manchester food blogger is discovering a chain restaurant which pleasantly surprises me. I’m sure all of you have had stereotypes of restaurants before; take for example when you are planning a romantic evening, or want to impress a guest coming to your city, and you hunt out the most independent, family ran eatery in hope to give them a new dining experience. I’m guilty of it myself, but last Saturday I decided to twist it up a little bit and give one of our most well known, long-running and popular Italian restaurants a go – Bella Italia.
There’s a cosy looking Bella Italia situated on the corner of Deansgate, nestled between the lavish cocktail bars of Spinningfields, and the shopping highlight that is House of Fraser. It was a rainy Saturday evening, and me and my friend wanted to indulge in pizza and pasta, forgetting about any carb quitting or calorie watching. This restaurant in particular has recently undergone a refurbishment, so I was intrigued to see how the place now looked, and what it was offering. The first thing I wanted to point out was how welcoming and patient the staff were. Due to typical torrential Manchester rain, my taxi was crawling down Deansgate, making us 15 minutes late. There was a queue at the door made up of a party who hadn’t booked, but instead of giving away our table and making me wait, I was rushed to the front and brought to my table, already set up with a jug of water and a bowl of olives. The loveliest of welcomes!
If you think of Bella Italia and haven’t visited for a number of years, it’s likely you would just expect it to have a number of offerings in the form of traditional pastas, pizzas, garlic breads, and perhaps the odd chicken/meat dish. However, the restaurants all went under a menu overhaul last year, where newly designed, fresher looking menus were brought out, offering a whole range of Italian inspired cuisine. Starters include the classic offerings of bread and olives and pizza breads, with a range of topics such as chilli, garlic, caramelised onion, mozzarella, rosemary and seat salt. They have also brought along sharing boards – something I for one am a huge fan of when I get stuck what to order. These in particular have selections of smoky hams, porchetta, mozzarella balls (delicious!), roasted vegetables with ciabatta and rocket, to name a few. For £11.45, they are exceptional value for all the food you get!
I ordered from the main starters menu, in which I went for a healthy choice of a tomato based vegetable soup with ciabatta slices, and my guest went for a new option – spicy whitebait deep fried with a garlic mayonnaise dip. The whitebait was lovely, and such a generous portion. As for my soup, it had that whole homemade, thick textured, packed-with-veggies taste, which was just what I needed on a freezing cold evening.
It was a fantastic touch to have a lemon sorbet brought out to us between courses – I literally can’t remember the last restaurant to do this for me. I think it was a luxury wedding venue restaurant and hotel in Saddleworth, so that really impressed me!
Onto the best bit – the mains. I was really feeling like tucking into a bowl of pasta, but the extensive menu made me change my mind a few times. The new menu is very extensive, boasting not only a huge list of pizzas, but choices of calzones and ‘Pizza Vita’ – thin and crispy versions under 600 calories.
They have a number of ‘Italian Classics’ which were rather tempting too, featuring ‘Spezzatino di Manzo’ – a slow cooked beef stew in a red wine sauce with toasted ciabatta and dumplings, ‘Filetto di Spigola’ – a sea bass fillet with new potatoes, and a hearty green salad, and the one I nearly went for – ‘Pollo Milanese’, a chicken breast baked in parmesan breadcrumbs, with green beans and pomodoro spaghetti. I really enjoy the Italian way of baking a bread crumbed chicken breast and serving with spaghetti.
Again, the new Grills section was appealing, with a range of steaks, burgers (yes, burgers are now served at this Italian eatery!), butterflied chicken and ribs. Sticking to my pasta craving, I ended up choosing the Gamberoni – succulent king prawns sauteed with spaghetti, garlic and chilli in a spicy pomodoro sauce. It was a light option but filled me up perfectly, and the prawns were so tasty. My guest opted for the Carne Calzone, which consisted of pancetta, spicy meatballs, red onion, mozzarella and ragu. He mentioned it was one of the best calzones due to the rich tomato based sauce, stopping the calzone being too dry. I have to admit it looked incredible, and I would have got a little bit of food envy, had my Gamberoni not been so amazing.
We had a lovely bottle of prosecco with our meal, and our waitress advised on a red wine which would work well with our meals. So of course, I opted for a large glass of that too. When in Rome, and all…
We didn’t have too much room left by the time dessert was due, so we asked the waitress to surprise us with something ice cream related. She mentioned that the gelato range was so delicious, with a wide variety of flavours, and that she would happily bring us a selection of the best to try so it wouldn’t be too over facing in a sundae glass. Take a look at the photos of the cutest dessert display of flavoured gelatos! From mint, coconut, honeycomb, strawberry… there were so many yummy flavours that came along with popping candy and amaretti biscuits. The gelato tasted so light, it made the ideal dessert as not to weigh us down too much, and the selection she brought across was perfect.
The staff were passionate about both the menu and food/drink options, which was refreshing to see. It always add to the service and experience when the staff look after you well and are there to happily advise you. I genuinely loved my experience here and have talked about it highly to friends since visiting. Some people may seek a quaint family ran Italian to strive for the best quality food, but I found right on my table at Bella Italia.