Come Dine With Me winner Stefano has a hit on his hands at this Italian restraurant, w
There are various points during a meal that signal which way it's going to go. The first glance at a menu. That initial sip of wine. The first impressions of the waiting staff, or the presentation of a starter. All good indicators of whether you are in for a great time or not.
At Bella in Wolverhampton, we knew within seconds of stepping out of the cold and through the front door how the night was going to proceed.
The friendly smiles of the lady behind the bar and two well turned-out waitresses as soon as we walked in; the immediacy with which we were helped out of our coats before they were whisked away to a cloakroom; the napkins that were flicked deftly out of our wine glasses and into our laps and a comprehensive wine list put right in front of my thirsty friend and I as a candle flickered on our little table for two. It was precisely the warm Italian welcome we needed after a busy day at the office, and set the tone for a very nice evening indeed.
It had been a while since my last visit to Bella, having attended a birthday party there a couple of years ago. On the corner of Bath Road and the notoriously busy Chapel Ash, I'd driven past it hundreds of times since and vowed to return one day.
Bella has a very good reputation in Wolverhampton for being the place to go for posh nosh. Countless times I've heard it suggested as a venue for celebrating a special occasion, its fans giving those not in the know glowing reviews about what a special little place it is, before they add something along the lines of it being a bit pricey. Only last week I overheard a similar conversation between two colleagues and decided it was time to go back.
Since my last visit, the spotlight had been shining on Bella for much more than its food. Restaurant manager Stefano Scaringi recently appeared on Channel 4's Come Dine With Me, and was a hit with both viewers and his fellow contestants, walking away with the £1,000 prize. The confident 24-year-old even cooked up a date with one of his rivals, and has become a bit of a local celebrity ever since.
Speaking of celebrities, the great and good of Wolverhampton have been seen dining there. Mick McCarthy is a frequent visitor and Beverley Knight has been spotted tucking in to some Italian fare too.
We scanned the room for familiar faces when we arrived last Wednesday but the room seemed to be largely made up of businessmen and women, occupying half the tables in the room. It's only a small restaurant – maybe around 12 tables – and it has a warm and intimate feel to it. It's also very stylish and fairly minimalist– with mirrored walls and large windows, beech-coloured wooden flooring contrasting with black tables and mahogany and cream leather chairs.
We chose an aromatic and warming and fruity bottle of marche rosso wine, priced at £14.20. The list was fairly comprehensive with nine Italian white wines among the selection, and 14 Italian reds, as well as a variety of sparkling wine and champagne and cocktails.
The menu, while certainly is not cheap is neither overly expensive, with 11 starters ranging in price from £4.95 to £9.95. There's also a wide selection of pasta dishes, fish, meat, pizza and sides.
We both chose cozze allo zafferano (£7.50) as a starter – mussels in white wine, shallots and herbs with saffron. Two generous portions arrived at our table a comfortable 10 or 15 minutes or so later. They were large and juicy, and, my friend declared, were the best she'd ever had and I'm inclined to agree – the sauce in particular was absolutely delicious.
My friend followed with steak – a big fat juicy rib-eye steak on the specials menu that came with chunky chips covered in cheese and a side helping of onions and mushrooms (£17.95). It looked so wondrous it left me regretting my choice for a few minutes.
My linguine ai frutti du mare (£13.50) – seafood pasta in a light Napoli sauce – was however an absolute delight, the stringy pasta lovely and soft, more mussels heaped on my plate and a ginormous king prawn sitting on top of it all. It was truly very fine Italian food that is hard to beat.
The dessert menu was tempting but we eventually declined, relaxing instead with the rest of our vino. The bill came to £65.15, a bit more expensive than your average restaurant but Bella is certainly not average, it's a delightful spot and well worth a visit and paying a few extra quid if you ask me.
As we left, our celebrity fix was satisfied with the appearance of Stefano, who emerged from behind the scenes to speak with staff in the reception, casting an eye on the goings on.
We were waved off with the same friendliness that had greeted us a couple of hours before, and I decided not to leave it so long before coming back for more.
Bella, 82 Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton WV3 0TY
Tel: 01902 427555
Prosciutto Melone, £7, Parma Ham and Melon; Carpaccio Di Manzo, £9.45, Thinly sliced fillet of raw beef, caper berries, rocket, parmesan & horseradish cream;
Duetto Di Carpaccio. £9.45, Fresh tuna and swordfish thinly sliced, marinated aubergine & sundried tomato tapenade
Bavette Alla Putanesca, £11.95, Linguini with tuna, olives and capers in a rich tomato & mascarpone sauce; Penne Alla Carmine, £10.50, Garganelli penne, chicken, pancetta and mushrooms in a light tomato sauce; Fegato Al Marsala, £16.95, Calves liver, pan-fried with marsala and red wine sauce; Anatra San Daniele, £19.95, Duck breast with a meat and herb stuffing, pan-fried with parma ham & berry glaze; Saltimbocca, £15.95, Veal, fresh sage and Parma ham in a white wine jus