Bellaria, from the latin bellus (“beautiful, pleasant, agreeable”).
Chef and owner Giuseppe Vannucci was brought up in Bellaria Igea Marina, a mythical sounding seaside town in the province of Rimini, Emilia-Romagna. Digging a little deeper we find that ‘Igea’ was the daughter of Asclepio, god of medicine, and is the name the doctor Vittorio Belli gave to the village at the beginning of the 1900s, a village he planned on the sandy dunes between the Uso and the Torre Pedriera. Having arrived in the UK ten years ago, Giuseppe finally opened his own restaurant in Fitzrovia in 2011 with many of the dishes focusing on the seaside specialities of his hometown.
Occupying a corner site on Great Titchfield Street in an increasingly food led Fitzrovia, a rash of restaurants opening in the last eighteen months, Bellaria is an unassuming spot that isn’t flailing its arms desperately for attention: the restaurant opposite is doing that with a life-size model of a chef proffering a menu to tempt you inside. Ahem.
Inside is equally modest (they have a cosy basement room used mainly for private hire), and on our visit, upstairs is crammed full of a combination of work lunches, a lively friends reunion, and a solo diner scarfing a truffle dish: the strong honk of truffle wafting towards the table got us in the mood pretty swiftly.
We wade into a crab and salmon tartare to kick off (£11) and are presented with a generous puck of white crab meat and chunks of salmon; there’s more seafood in there than you can shake a piece of fritto misto at, and we’re pleased with the zingy orange dressing that cuts through the richness; an over enthusiastic pile of rocket leaves on the side is left untouched, but no matter.
Another starter of smoky Scamorza cheese wrapped in pancetta (£9.50), accompanied by grilled vegetables is another surprisingly hefty dish, with plenty of chargrilled red peppers and courgettes — we begin to realise that portions here are unstinting with Italian generosity.
Bellaria are proud of their wine focus and regularly host wine tasting events, and a glance at the wine list shows there’s more to explore here than most of the Italian restaurants in the close vicinity. Deutz NV Champagne at £9.50 a glass is a good place to start, and a very decent fizz to open the list with. We’re pleased to see some wineries on the list that are always a good option, such as Prunotto from Piedmont, the Dolcetto coming in at £33.95. Marco Felluga from the sweet spot of ‘Collio” in Friuli, North-East Italy, is there too if you want to push towards the top end of the white list (£44.95).There’s plenty under £30 to choose from, with Sicily providing a couple of very serviceable reds by the glass. Go nuts on a Vietti ‘Castiglione Falletto’ Barolo 1999 if you’re in the mood (£225).
Homemade squid ink Tagliolini with scallops and pesto ‘Genovese’, listed as a ‘signature dish’, hooked us in immediately when we glanced through the pasta options. We didn’t expect eight (yes, count ’em) scallops to adorn our plate, complete with the orange comma of their roes attached — well cooked pasta, a flourish of proper pesto fizzing with freshness, and an ocean’s worth of fresh scallops. Job done.
We ordered a risotto out of a sense of duty; any Italian restaurant should nail this dish with the panache and skill of an Italian ‘mama’, although poor risottos are all over this town. Any place with its eye off the ball, sloppy chefs, or short cutting with pre-cooking will be found out (by me, anyway), with overcooked and stodgy rice being the biggest crime. This one nailed it: bravo. Matured taleggio cheese added plenty of heft to rice that retained its shape and bite, while a few slices of pear (we were sceptical) cooked in Barolo wine, and a drizzle of the cooking jus in the mix, added subtle sweetness to balance the tangy cheese.
Desserts were…..massive. By this point we weren’t surprised. The lightness and airiness of a massive slab of Tiramisu meant we ummmmed and ahhhhhed, politely whispering “we’ll never be able to get through this”, but suitably boozy Marsala soaked softened biscuit soon did the ‘pick me up’ which the dessert promises, and we were flying through it after two spoonfuls. A Crème Caramel completed the meal, wobbling in all the right places and showing deftness in the kitchen.
Two espressos later and we step out onto Great Titchfield Street. A pleasant and agreeable lunch indeed.
71 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 6RB