Ciao Bella is enormously popular - on a wet, miserable Tuesday evening even the barely-sheltered outside tables are abuzz, and the two stories indoors also fill up. There is an old school, traditional Italian hospitality vibe - it's the kind of place where you feel you should know the owner.
I arrive first, and they willingly bring out my tap water, as well as plates of olives and chunks of gutsy parmesan (but be careful - though unbidden, these will appear on the menu at £2.50 a pop). We dither over the lengthy menu and luckily decide to skip on the starters.
The main course platefuls of pasta are ginormous - each enough to feed two or even three pretty hungry people. The meatballs in spaghetti con polpette (£7.20) are as big as potatoes, while spaghetti all'aragosta (by the far the most expensive thing on the menu at £15.50) comes with what looks like an entire lobster. Of the four of us, only one comes anywhere near finishing, though not through dislike of the food. Even the signature tagliatelle "Ciao Bella" (£6.80) is surprisingly tasty despite mixing salmon with dolcelatte. The valpolicella (£14.50) is very quaffable lubricant for a pleasant, low key evening.
Everyone should have a good local Italian, and Ciao Bella fits the bill very well. It would work as well for a large group as a loved up couple. Plus, being Italian, they happily welcome children too. My loyalty, though, lies firmly with Venezia and its dolcelatte steaks.
Ciao Bella, 86-90 Lamb's Conduit St, WC1N 3LZ; Tel. 0207 2424119 www.ciaobellarestaurant.co.uk
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