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Friday, February 15, 2013
Like the stripes of the Italian flag, there are three Norwich branches of Bella Italia. SIMON PARKIN popped into and saw the appeal of a reliable family favourite.
Adding the third stripe to the Italian tricolour, this is branch number three for the national chain in Norwich which just goes to prove how successful they are at serving up what people want.
Having at one time or another tucked into a big bowl of pasta at all three — the other two are in Red Lion Street and Exchange Street, as if you didn’t know — I’d say the big appeal is that the food is honest, if nothing particularly amazing, and reasonably priced.
It makes it an easy and reliable choice if you’re looking for somewhere convenient to eat before heading off to the cinema — in the case of Riverside; or theatre — they do pre-show deals at the Red Lion Street branch which is handily placed for the Theatre Royal.
That goes double if you’ve got a young children. They’re extremely family friendly and have a menu that includes pizzas, pasta and pretty wholesome, non-junk dishes that even the fussiest of kids couldn’t turn their nose up at, while also offering something more grown up for parents who get sick of tucking into pizzas or burgers.
Of the three I’d say this newer addition is the most fun. With high ceilings, river views (it’s worth bagging a seat at the every back) and plenty of room it feels more comfortable, particularly if you’re with a big party.
They’ve also gone mad with the Italian themeing with the walls covered with guilt frame pictures, mirrors, giant maps and portraits of Italian families.
We sat marvelling at just where the designers had got it all from, presuming they’d scoured junk shops and reclaim yards for such individual looking pieces. In fact it’s probably all from some pre-order design specialist company, because popping into a branch elsewhere you’ll find they all look remarkably similar. Oh well, that’s chains for you. Just what would those stern looking 19th century Italians (are they really Italian?) captured in the portraits make of it all?
The menu covers all the bases — 10 pizza choices (plus a handful of low-cal choices), more than 20 pasta options — and creditably they stick to the Italian classics without resorting to slipping in British alternatives.
The pizzas are of the thin, crispy variety with sensible, relatively authentic sounding toppings, rather than stodgy affairs covered in items Italians would sneer at.
Our antipasti of bruschetta (£4.95) and mozzarella carrozza (£5.75), melted mozzarella and provolone cheese oven baked in ciabatta breadcrumbs, with spiced arrabbiata dipping sauce, saw us in unison with our praise. The bruschetta on toasted ciabatta with a rich tomato, red onion and basil topping was rich, sour treat, with plenty of metallic basil bite. The cheese was stringy, tangy and the perfect base for a rich, think sauce.
A main course American Italian classic — you’ve seen it in all the mafia movies — of meatballs and spaghetti (£9.75) was had a rich tomato sauce and plenty of filling pasta to mop it up with, though the meatballs themselves were a little bland.
A true winter treat was the pollo cacciatore (£12.50), a classic Italian hunter’s stew with chicken breast and roasted red onions in a rich tomato, smoked bacon and mushroom sauce. Served with a choice of fries or rosemary roasted vegetables (we had the later), it was hearty, filling and full of flavour.
You cannot come to this type of restaurant and not finish with a dessert of tiramisu (£4.25) in my opinion. This one was neither exceptional nor a disappointment.
Much like the restaurant itself.
Open: Mon-Sun 12pm-late
Prices: Antipasti from £3.95; pizza from £6.95; pasta from £7.50; mains from £8.75; desserts from £3.95
Wheelchair access: Yes