18:03 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Bella Italia, Reading Riverside.

Ah, the chain restaurant debate. Are we bored of it yet? I regularly find myself settling down to comfortingly consistent food in the sort of establishments that you can find on every corner of every town in England. And you know what? I'm not ashamed. In my opinion these restaurants have done nothing but good for the foodie-culture. They mean that people don't have to save up for three years in order to pop out for a quick bite for friends. They allow you a nice meal and a bottle of wine with change from £20. To me, eating at restaurants is a treat, an occasion. Cheaper chain restaurants don't lessen this idea, they just allow me to enjoy myself more frequently. And what, I ask you, is wrong with that? Don't get too snotty about the food. It may always be on the wrong side of great, but it is what it is. Try lots, find what's great and always order that. That's the beauty of it.

Bella Italia is one of my favourite jaunts of this type. I first went to one in Bath, way back when it was Bella Pasta, and I was far too young to be enjoying the large glasses of wine really, but no matter. I ate my first Caesar Salad there, and was introduced to the wonders of a Bella perennial, an immense dessert that goes by the name of The Godfather. Order one, I beg you, and get it with the shot of Amaretto on it. Just bear in mind that I have never, ever managed to finish one alone, even after 9 years of trying.

Anyway, over the weekend, Steviant and I popped into the Reading Riverside Bella for a quick lunch. The special sounded good,
Spaghetti in a white wine sauce with cream and mussels. I am addicted to mussels so it was a no-brainer for me. Steviant ordered his usual Carne Mista pizza, which does what it says on the tin. Pizza and lots and lots of meat. It was good as usual (The pizzas aren't at all bad here) but I thought the base was a little flabby. Steviant said he liked it like that, and who am I to argue?

Mine came and looked good, smelled good - good start. The mussels were as fresh as you're going to get at a place like this but they were slightly overcooked. There was a teeny tiny baby mussel that entranced me so much I took a picture to show you. Then I ate it. Mohahaha. Anyway, back to the sauce. I really wish they hadn't got the work-experience kid to chop the onions. Tiny slivers and enormous chunks and mostly raw, shame. The sauce itself saved the meal, it was lovely and rich with a good balance of flavours. If I were being nit-picky I would say it bloody well should be, it's hardly tricky to prepare.
On balance, I enjoyed the meal to a point, and we had a lovely hour eating in the sun and pretending to be on holiday. I wouldn't order it again. My recommendation from Bella Italia is the Penne Zafferano. Lightly smoked salmon fillet, king prawns, cherry tomatoes and spinach in a saffron and cream sauce. It's as good as it sounds.

The service in The Riverside's Bella Italia is hit and miss. When it's bad, it's tolerable but when it's good, it's excellent. This time it was tolerable. I helped myself to menus after a rudely long wait for service, and our waiter was polite but rushed (it wasn't especially busy) We didn't tip. That's another reason I like chains like this. I never feel obliged to tip unless the service is truly exemplary. I resent tipping in general but that's a story for another day.

Anyway, the bill came to £16 for two meals and two big glasses of fresh juice. That, and sitting in the sun for a gorgeous hour catching up with a favourite person is why I love restaurants like Bella Italia. Plus The Godfather. Mmmm.


Joe said...

I'm always torn betwen the Bella Italia and the ASK London restaurants. They're both really great high street Italian restaurants and I can never decide between the two. Normally I just head for wherever is closer, it saves me ever having to solve this quandry.

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