We try the new dishes on the menu at a Bristol branch of Bella Italia restaurant

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The popular chain has also launched a new lunchtime deal

Until this week, it was more than 16 years since I had set foot in the Bristol city centre branch of Bella Italia.

The only reason I know that is because my daughter Bella was only a few months old when I last ate there and she turns 17 this month.

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Bella - no, she wasn’t named after the popular high street restaurant chain - and I returned to the Baldwin Street restaurant early evening this week before seeing a show at the theatre.

And it was a good job we had booked because by 5.30pm, the spacious restaurant was so full that people without reservations were being turned away.

One of the reasons this branch of Bella Italia has been so busy recently is because of Hamilton, the musical at the Hippodrome. 

Most of our fellow diners seemed to be heading there after their meal and our friendly waiter Ryan was almost hoarse from saying ‘enjoy the show’ to every diner as they paid the bill and trotted off to join the queue outside the Hippodrome.

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When a big show like Hamilton comes to town, local restaurants around the city centre do a roaring trade. It’s a captive crowd who need feeding before curtain up and they don’t have much time.

Which is probably why Bella Italia gets so many pre-theatre diners. It’s a well-oiled machine when it comes to quick and efficient service.

There are around 70 Bella Italias around the UK. Those of us with long memories will remember the chain before it was rebranded. Back in the 1990s, Bella Pasta was one of the go-to cheap and cheerful Italian high street chains along with Pizza Express, Pizza Hut and Pizzaland.

The new cheesy dough ball stack with garlic butter at Bella ItaliaThe new cheesy dough ball stack with garlic butter at Bella Italia
The new cheesy dough ball stack with garlic butter at Bella Italia

Bella Italia’s huge menu has some new dishes this month. My daughter kicked off with the ‘cheesy dough ball stack’ (£7.29 for the small version or £11.69 for the large one) - a dish of dough balls beneath a duvet of hot cheese sauce, garlic butter and ‘onion crispies’. 

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Like most hungry teenagers, she made light work of what was possibly one of the heaviest starters on the menu.

I stuck to the king prawns (£8.79) - seven decent size specimens in a garlic butter spiked with slices of red chilli and a piece of toasted garlic-rubbed ciabatta for mopping up.

The BBQ double chicken pizza at Bella ItaliaThe BBQ double chicken pizza at Bella Italia
The BBQ double chicken pizza at Bella Italia

We both ordered the new special pizza - the BBQ double chicken (£16.99), although Bella upgraded with a garlic butter crust for an extra 50p. Even after the hefty ‘cheesy dough ball stack’ starter, she wasn’t holding back.

The pizza had a light and puffy base loaded with molten mozzarella, pulled chicken, bacon lardons, Italian sausage, roasted red onions and a drizzle of BBQ sauce. I’m not usually a fan of chicken on pizza, but it worked well and we both polished them off with ease. Bella rated the melted garlic butter within her crust.

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The two desserts we tried were new on the menu, too. A slice of zesty baked lemon cheesecake (£7.79) was served with a sharp and jammy blueberry compote, while the sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream (£7.79) was lighter than it looked and not overly rich.

Sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream is one of the new desserts on the menuSticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream is one of the new desserts on the menu
Sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream is one of the new desserts on the menu

With drinks and service, the final bill soon racked up but there are deals to be had at Bella Italia. 

A new weekday lunchtime offer has just been launched and it costs £7.99 for a pasta or pizza dish as long as you order before 4pm, Mondays to Thursdays.

Of course, Bristol is blessed with several great independent restaurants close to the city centre theatres but Bella Italia is still a go-to place for many diners due to consistency and service. It has mass appeal and a decent price point.

And although I can’t say I’ll become a regular diner myself, I probably won’t leave it another 16 years before I visit again.

Bella Italia, 8-10 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1SA.

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