Bella Italia, St Andrews vs homemade lasagne

I should be clear about this, as the title of this post could be confusing. The homemade lasagne was entirely seperate from Bella Italia. The two should definitely not be confused as I doubt anything at Bella Italia could be confused for homemade. So, this weekend was definitely an up and down one from a food perspective.

A birthday in my girlfriend’s family was the reason behind our trip to St Andrews and some vouchers narrowed the choice to Bella Italia. Despite being a chain I was optimistic, hopeful of at least Pizza Express levels of consistently decent food. Choosing St Andrews as the venue on the same day as the annual airshow at RAF Leuchars, along with the proximity of a new academic year at the university did mean that a quite family meal was out of the question. The restaurant was absolutely heaving. Thankfully we’d booked and were shown to our table upstairs, in a corner, backed onto a radiator that left barely enough room to sit comfortably at the table.

Nevermind, onto the food. Or it would have been onto the food if it wasn’t for the slow service. 20 minutes to take a drinks order, quickly followed by our food order which took another 40 minutes to arrive. We’d been at the table for an hour before any of the starters or side orders of bread appeared! I wish I could say the service improved as the evening went on, but it didn’t. It seems that Bella Italia likes having a full restaurant on two floors but is completely incapable of coping when it happens. Thankfully after spending the afternoon with a few glasses of wine the conversation was flowing quite freely, so it didn’t spoil the night.

When the food did arrive it was pretty unremarkable. 3 of us opted for the skewared prawns starter. The prawns themselves were delicious, though there was little hint of the chilli in the lemon and chilli butter and the tomato salsa seemed to just be some chopped tomatos and red peppers. This was all served on some dry focaccia. My biggest gripe about the prawns was leaving the tails on. They’re on a skewer, why leave the tails on when you’re cooking them on a stick that we can hold to eat them with? It just mean each prawn had to be removed individually from the skewer so it could be extracted from the tail. We’d also ordered some bruschetta to share and what arrived was about the sorriest example of it’s kind I’ve seen. Using the same dry focaccia as the prawn starter it appeared to simply be chopped tomato on the bread. Not even any olive oil or basil. Barely even any seasoning. Though it did come with some undressed lettuce leaves sprinkled over the top.

After the slightly confused, but perfectly edible starters we endured another mammoth wait for the main courses to appear. By this time even the waiting staff were getting embarrased and had come over to apologise and offer some free olives. After some more time spent talking amongst ourselves and another bottle of wine the mains arrived. My pizza looked ok and it tasted alright but again it wasn’t quite as advertised. There was barely any sign of the sweet roasted peppers and the arrabbiata base was doing a good impression of bog standard tomato sauce, with none of the peppery kick I was expecting. The rest of the mains looked similar quality. The penne diavolo arrived complete with the optional spoonfull of mascarpone which hadn’t been requested. While the penne marco polo was light on the duck, but otherwise ok and the pollo alla crema was a fairly pedestrian example of yet more penne with some chicken, peppers and bacon in a white sauce that may or may not have contained the advertised wine, it was hard to tell. I suspect there wasn’t a whole lot of cooking went into these, more likely it was delivered pre-assembled and heated on site (a glance at the kitchen as I walked past later seemed to confirm this). Which makes the slow service even more disappointing.

Happily the desserts were a big improvement, though they also suffered from a bit of mis-representation in the menu. The chocolate brownies with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, which I imagined as large, gooey sponges with big dollops of ice cream on the side actually arrived as an ice cream sundae with small chunks of brownie at the bottom. Delicious, but infuriatingly not what I thought it was going to be. Conversely the white and milk chocolate mousse on a truffle base didn’t arrive in the expected glass but instead was delivered as a cold slice reminiscent of chocolate cheesecake. The banoffee pie was the only one which arrived looking as expected and made me wish I’d stuck to my original choice and had that instead of the brownies.

Another long wait for the bill summed up the night, but at least it wasn’t an expensive one. I guess value is the big attraction here and the ready availability of discount vouchers only adds to this, but really even at seemingly low prices on the menu I’m not sure it’s worth it. I wouldn’t hurry back to Bella Italia, we had an enjoyable night but that was despite the restaurant rather than because of it.

Sunday was a new day and I had much to look forward to. Not least because my girlfriend had decided to make lasagne for tea. She spent all afternoon hard at work and the end result was wonderful. Light years ahead of the restaurant food we’d had the night before. Deep flavours, tender meat with a rich tomato sauce and perfectly cooked cheese.

Then to go along with with I dipped into some treats I picked up from the from the drinks emporium on Saturday. First up was Brockville Pale Ale from Tryst. A cloudy, zesty session ale which was right up my street. Later in the evening I cracked open a bottle of Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout. This was as black as my soul and very robust. To be honest I didn’t enjoy this all that much, it was a bit too heady for me with strong roast malt flavour and lots of coffee coming through. Not as much chocolate as I was expecting either. Perhaps it’s just not quite cold enough outside to properly appreciate the dark beers yet.

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