Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Elly Curshen and olive reader Danie Stinchcombe try out Bellita, Bristol
Elly Curshen is a Bristol-based cook who writes a regular food column for InStyle magazine. Her book, Elly Pear’s Fast Days and Feast Days, will be published by Harper Collins in May 2016. @ellypear (Instagram)
Danie Stinchcombe works for Pieminister and eats out once a week. She loves seafood, but also enjoys eating huge chunks of cheddar.
Bellita comes from the same team as Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms, a popular modern Mediterranean restaurant nearby that opened its doors three years ago (although the original Bell’s Diner dates back to the 1970s).
Bellita is the slightly cooler, more relaxed venue of the two. Perch at the bar with a tapa – try pickled cauliflower or Finn cheese with honeycomb – or luxuriate over a meal, picking from a dozen or so plates, including pork cheeks cooked in pedro ximenez, charcoal-grilled prawns and all manner of fried potatoes. Don’t forget dessert – orange and crème fraîche tart, perhaps.
We visited on a Monday night and although it was quiet at first, the restaurant soon filled up. Service was generally relaxed but efficient, just as it should be. There’s no sommelier – it’s not that type of gaff – but an adventurous drinks list including a ‘mini’ Rogue (wild rose vermouth) martini, perfect for pre-dinner boozing. *I was recognised.
Service is friendly and relaxed, if a little too laidback occasionally – once or twice we had to ask for more drinks when our glasses were empty. But the mistake was always rectified with an apology, a smile, and the swift delivery of another round.
The food here is very close in style to that of Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms in nearby Montpelier. Bell’s has always been excellent, and it’s their sous chef, Joe Harvey, under head chef Sam Sohn-Rethel, who is now running the kitchen at Bellita. There are some classic Bell’s dishes on the menu (such as delicate slow-cooked trout, tzatziki and pickled cucumber, which I never tire of), as well as a bevvy of new dishes designed for sharing.
There are lots of veggie and gluten-free options, too. We asked for ordering guidance and were told 3-4 dishes per person was about right, which worked out perfectly. Food arrives as it is ready and was well paced.
A stunningly presented rice, feta and saffron filo parcel with pumpkin borani and pistachios was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten – a heavenly balance of crisp pastry and fragrant filling. Other standout dishes include potato and parmesan fritters and fried potatoes with aïoli and mojo verde – these guys know their spuds!
The wine list, all by female winemakers, offers many by the glass, including a 75ml tasting size – a great chance to try a few different wines. Stuffed, we shared a slice of dark, dense chocolate torte with salted caramel sauce and mascarpone.
Food here is simple, fresh and varied. There’s a good selection of vegetarian dishes, all of which are good value. Portion sizes are on the small side, so it was easy to make our way through the menu.
The artichoke, chicory, pear, almond and manchego salad with truffle oil was just as delicious as it sounds, the truffle oil delicately balancing sweet, crisp bites of pear. A burnt aubergine, pepper and onion salad with pomegranate and chilli was somewhat overpowering – I love a good baba ganoush, but the smokiness took over and I could only distinguish pomegranate seeds by their crunch.
For me, the highlight was slow-cooked trout, tzatziki and pickled cucumber – delicately cooked (not a dry flake in sight) and paired perfectly with the dill and cream in the tzatziki. Charcoal grilled prawns with parsley, lime and paprika were sweet, juicy and gently seasoned.
A pistachio and almond cake with pistachio ice cream was the perfect finale to an eclectic meal. It had a rich texture and an almost caramelised crust. What also stood out was the fantastic range of bespoke cocktails and unusual drinks, such as The Bellita aperitif made with Chase Seville orange gin, vermouth and a raspberry, thyme and black pepper shrub.
The bottom line
Bellita is described as ‘the boisterous little sister of Bell’s Diner’ – a more casual version of one of my favourite restaurants. I had high expectations and they were more than met. I think I’ll always prefer the warmer Bell’s, but Bellita is a fun addition to the family. Total for two: £101.50 including service
Food 9/10; atmosphere 8/10; service 8/10; Tom’s total 25/30
At just before 7pm on a Saturday night, Bellita was already full, with a buzzy, vibrant atmosphere. I’ve enjoyed dining several times at Bellita’s older (and slightly more refined) sister restaurant, and initially wouldn’t have recognised them as being from the same family – certainly, both are worth visiting. Total for two: £107.80, including service
Food 7/10; atmosphere 9/10; service 7/10; Danie’s total 23/30
Food Made Good rating 7/10
Bellita co-owner Kate Hawkings has gone out of her way to source champagne, wine and beer exclusively from female producers. The vast majority of food is sourced locally and much of it is organic, including the meat. Despite having only opened recently, Bellita’s already supporting the local community, working closely with nearby schools and offering work experience to pupils.
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