This week my mother Yvonne, my daughter GZ and I paid a visit to Bella Maria Walton-le-Dale‘s Capitol Centre for lunch.Advertisement
It was the first time any of us had eaten there, despite it being walking distance from Yvonne’s home, because we’d all independently assumed that it was yet another Italian-style, mediocre chain restaurant. That’s probably due to the “Bella” in the name combined with the advertising banners, menus and generally polished look of the place.
It was only when I researched the company after my visit that I realised that it’s the second branch of a family run business that has just one other restaurant in Broughton.
We all chose the lunchtime special offer, which was one tapas, a side and a soft drink for £9.99.
It didn’t sound like much food, but once we were seated and looked more closely at the menu we saw that the offer was for the tapas labelled “large”.
Our meals came quickly. Yvonne had chosen the Greek chicken souvlaki – Greek-style chicken marinated skewers and salad, served with pitta – as her tapas and the mixed salad as her side.
The chicken was beautifully tender and mildly spiced in a marinade that added flavour without much heat, and was liberally smothered with a creamy, tangy, tzatziki style sauce. It lay on slices of pitta bread that bore little resemblance to the dense, supermarket offerings that maintain the temperature of Satan’s armpit as you try to open them before becoming floppy, grey and sullen the moment you succeed. These pitta were fluffy yet slightly crispy in all the right places.
The chopped lettuce of the substantial salad was generously strewn with red and yellow peppers, olives and cherry tomatoes, and was well covered in a vinaigrette dressing.
I’d opted for king saganaki – off the shell king prawns with tomatoes, spring onions, garlic and feta cheese.
Despite sounding like a character from Takeshi’s Castle, saganaki is generally a dish of pan fried Greek cheese that’s crispy on the outside and melted on the inside. This wasn’t it, as the king prawns were in what was predominantly a bowl of cooked, whole cherry tomatoes in a tomato sauce with some uncooked feta cheese crumbled on top.
I don’t like tomatoey dishes unless the tomato is totally overwhelmed by cheese, which is what I thought would be going on in the saganaki, so GZ took pity on me and swapped plates. Despite being a lifelong fan of the tomato, she felt that they eclipsed the delicate flavour of the prawns.
As this wasn’t my first plate swapping rodeo I didn’t ask what she thought until we’d finished our meals, because I didn’t want to feel guilty and offer to swap back. However, I tried a little scoop and agreed that the sharp acidity of the tomatoes amplified the slightly sour taste of the feta and wasn’t toned down or balanced with any sweetness in the sauce.
The garlic prawn tapas I swapped for was lovely. There were only five king prawns but they were cooked beautifully and served in a lake of intensely garlicky, herby oil that was delicious when my accompanying side of chips and a slice of pitta bread that I’d purloined from Yvonne were dipped into it.
All of the dishes looked appetising, and the quality of the ingredients was high. The inside and outside of the restaurant was modern and inviting, and there were enough waiting staff to ensure a smooth service.
There were just a couple of niggles; the first was the industrial-sized pepper mill that was dragged to the table like a trebuchet.
For a truly authentic ’80s Italian restaurant experience these ancient three-footers must grind no more than two peppercorns per hour, and the waiter must move around the table asking each diner if they’d like some before giving the base a half twist in the vague direction of their plate and challenging, “Is that enough?”.
The customer must then choose whether to gamble. They can say “yes, thank you” and accept that they’re going to have to make do with the rubbish pre-ground pepper that makes everything smell like a Nana, or they can say “no” and resign themselves to an excruciating five-minute silence whilst the wielder unwaveringly peppers the same two inches of rapidly cooling food and your friends watch you with starving hatred.
Don’t ask if they will leave the pepper on the table and come back in five minutes, you can’t be trusted with it.
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The second niggle is the 10 per cent tip that was automatically added to the bill; a subject almost as volatile as the bun/bap/teacake/roll debate.
Personally, I’m happy to tip good or passable service, but I don’t like it being added on automatically. It takes from customers the opportunity to do something nice by adding a tip in recognition of a job well done, forcing them instead to accept either the money grab or the awkwardness of asking for it to be removed.
That aside, we all enjoyed our visit and would go again, but next time I’ll take my own black pepper mill because I don’t want to grow old and die there.
Do you think a tip should be automatically added to the bill by the restaurant, or would you consider it cheeky? Let us know in the comments.
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