Nigel Slater recently criticised the term foodie. I like his quote that food should be “something to be quietly enjoyed rather than put on a pedestal. (The very notion of someone being a “foodie” makes me shudder.)”
When I named my blog, I’d like to think that I was being slightly ironic. I'm certainly not someone who has ever been particularly snobbish about food; merely I delight (to a slightly excessive degree) in eating, cooking, writing about and reading about the subject. The idea of making it into a fetish, is, I agree, shudder inducing. But unfortunately for me, you can’t run after everyone who happens across your blog and explain that the term was meant humorously. Sadly, I will now never have Nigel Slater as a fan.
This is a very roundabout introduction to what is actually the simplest of things – lunch. In particular, lunch at a chain restaurant. One of those chain restaurants that tends to set up shop in city centres and out of town shopping parks near the multiplex cinema. About as far away from fayne dayning as it is possible to be. And yet, and yet. As long as you’re not going to get all snobbish about it and enjoy it for what it is, a perfectly nice place to enjoy a perfectly nice meal.
I don’t recall ever being to a Bella Italia before. Based on my experience at the York Clifton Moor branch on Saturday, I would certainly pop in there for a bite to eat before catching an early evening film. Chain restaurants have their place, especially when they are delivering good quality food for decent value. I suppose my one issue with them comes when they start to choke out the great little independent places who have the capacity (and, indeed, the freedom) to be a bit more creative. But that, in part, is down to the diner who doesn't want to step outside their comfort zone.
So, to lunch. It was Saturday, and busy and buzzy but our lovely server Louise was completely unflappable and charming in the face of the rush. And, yes, I enjoyed the food. And yes, I know it was lunchtime, but we did share a bottle of the house red (for research purposes) and it was very pleasant for £14.
I started with one of the specials, ‘nduja spirale – breadsticks stuffed with mozzarella and my beloved spicy salami. I was really excited to see ‘nduja on the menu (I believe I've mentioned that it is my current obsession) and hope it introduces it to a wider audience. This dish was like an upper class stuffed crust that had got so far above its station as to detach itself from the pizza - yum. D had gamberi, or prawns, with garlic and chilli – great, fat, juicy nuggets which he pronounced very good (and he’s a man who knows his crustacea).
For a main course, I put my WW head on and ordered a pizza Vita – which, at under 600 calories (roughly 15pps) was one of the more diet friendly options (all dishes less than 600 and 300 calories are flagged up on the menu). The base was wholemeal, giving it a distinctly nutty taste and a more prominent role in the proceedings than usual which I actually liked. The quality of the topping was good – the slices of Speck ham, in particular, were lovely and overall I enjoyed it although I think “pizza” is a slight misnomer. D had a pizza proper which was thin and crisp of base and generous of toppings. He appeared to like it although in terms of the logistics of eating he would have preferred a larger plate and a pizza wheel (as opposed to a steak knife). First world problems indeed.
In order to provide a completely comprehensive view we also ate pudding although we were both rather full at this point. Still, that’s what the separate pudding stomach is for, isn't it? The selection of pudding “shots” was a really nice idea (and again, at under 300 calories each, a good option for the dieter who wants something sweet without blowing too many points on a huge portion) – we opted for pannacotta, tiramisu mousse and the chocolate amaretto pot between us. D thought the chocolate was too sweet (I liked it) but praised the sharp morello cherry coulis on the pannacotta and took to mixing the two to cut through the chocolate.
Elsewhere, judging by the constant stream of contented, sticky young children, the gelato cart was doing roaring trade – I thought that was another lovely touch. Although I still don’t understand the difference between gelato and ice cream.
So what is our summary here? In short, if you call yourself a foodie but in reality you are just slightly greedy and don’t want to get caught up in the politics of it all, then you would have a thoroughly nice meal in a Bella Italia restaurant. And it is was really good to see from the menu that the chain are starting to think about provenance and regionality: such things that may be buzzwords but they are concepts that ultimately contribute to a higher standard of food across the board.
|Map of Italy!|
If you’re trying to lose weight but still want to go out, then the low calorie flags on the menu are good signposts to guide your choices. If you want to get young children used to eating out then this sort of place (relaxed atmosphere, lovely, friendly staff, child friendly gelato carts) is ideal. If you just want to grab something quick, tasty and decently priced before you go and drool over Daniel Craig, this fits the bill. That’s a lot of boxes ticked.
Disclaimer: I was invited to eat at Bella Italia and the meal was complementary. However, my blog is my kingdom etc. and all opinions expressed are honest and, along with all spelling and grammatical errors, indisputably my own.