We got invited to a cycle tour of Brighton, cycling to The Marina and visiting the new branch of Bella Italia not so long ago. It was brilliant to have been invited to such a fun sounding afternoon. Unfortunately on this particularly horizontal-rain-kind-of-day, the British ‘summer’ was doing its worst to our fair city. We half ran to the North Street branch to meet with some fellow press people and the lovely Roxanne, our expert Bella leader for the afternoon. As the number of keen cyclists dwindled (we were still up for it, even though we were steadily getting drenched), it became evident that poor Carlo of Brighton Bike Tours had wasted a journey with his impressive brigade of bikes. We ended up having a beer together and he took the bikes back to their home.
So swapping the bikes for a far less exciting taxi (don’t worry, Carlo caught us up!), we made our way to Brighton Marina. Specifically, the new run of restaurants lined up overlooking the moored boats. Bella Italia sits proudly in the mix – the newly opened establishments offering a great blend of different cuisines. Their terrace filled with an assortment of red and green chairs juxtaposed with the polished glass of the exterior gives it a clean, Italian finish. Leading seamlessly in to the restaurant, the reds and greens continue through their lightshades, with the addition of white, recreates the flag of Italy. Immaculate wooden tables, encircled by different coloured chairs kept the bright and airy space interesting. The emphasis is certainly to be bright and colourful and they’ve nailed it with quirky finishes. Picking a long table for us to all sit together, we felt as if we could be sitting down to a family-style dinner. Settling down and exchanging niceties with their wonderful staff, our attention soon turns to their very well put together drinks menu. Picking Italy’s ‘original birra’, the only draught option, called Menabrea Italia (£4.75) was a great a plan. It’s made at the foothill of the Alps so had a remarkably refreshing taste – it has melted glacial water in so almost counts as healthy, no?
As a large table, we shared wines of varying colours, flavours and fizz. The standout for me would definitely have to be their pinot grigio (£19.95 per bottle) – Bella’s is packed with different fruity notes including elderflower, peach and apples. A balanced fruity-yet-crisp wine, it accompanied our authentic dishes like a dream. We get stuck in to some sharing platters dotted around the table. At a very reasonable £1.95, A taste of Italy Antipasti serves us well. Adorned with mortadella and speck hams, spianata and capocollo salamis, pecorino cheese, baby bocconcini mozzarella, Italian olives and grissini bread sticks to name but a few, this whets our appetites and leaves us eager for more. Stand out components for me certainly included the succulent Italian olives, which transported me back to a beachside café in my early teens overlooking a crystal clear ocean – heavenly, and the total opposite of the outside world on this particular day. Mind the stones with those though. The salamis rich taste atop a little slice of pecorino was an explosion of flavour. A great start to our evening.
We had such a spread of dishes covering our table that I’ve taken a few of my favourites to write (read: daydream) about. So, in no particular order, let’s kick things off with the carbonara (£9.95). The tagliatelle pasta had the perfect amount of sauce – and I like a lot of sauce – keeping it from drying out. The pecorino returns to reinforce the white sauce, interspersed by crispy pancetta and the more unexpected leeks, and makes the dish really stand out from the rest on the menu. Cheese and leeks will always be friends, especially on a Sunday roast, but in an Italian dish? Turns out yes, yes they are. It’ll take more than the whole of Italy to break that bond. They work almost as onions would – a little extra flavour with a soft bite to them. Perfect, and this dish certainly won’t break the bank.
Now the next two dishes to make the grade are quite similar: different but the same, they’re like the non-identical twins of the foodie world. The Salmone Tarragon Roma (£12.95) sees the special flatbread-like base layered with a béchamel sauce. Lending itself to many recipes, the buttery sauce is a welcome replacement to the usual tomato and creates something really quite special. Loaded up with smoked salmon and king prawns, each bite seemed to get better. For balance, tenderstem broccoli is added and gives the pizza a bit of a crunch. Smothered in mozzarella, the flavours marry up and result in a gorgeous finish. Its twin, the Salmone Limone (£11.45) holds its own too. Curly spaghetti makes for a fun twist (especially for younger diners), while the smoked salmon and tenderstem broccoli (sadly no prawns… hint, hint) is cooked in an absolutely mouth-watering sauce of mascarpone, tarragon and lemon. If king prawns were added to the pasta I’d have a very hard time choosing between the two dishes.
The other two branches in Brighton have laid out a fantastic springboard for their Marina-dwelling younger sibling. The laid back approach to dining the restaurant has taken on makes it feel like a family-run bistro. The place feels unique – certainly not like a chain – and will make anyone from Italy or England feel right at home. Britain meets Italy and makes Brighton one happy place.
Bella Italia is now open at Unit 6, 2 The Boardwalk, Marina Village, Brighton, BN2 5ZB