23 Apr 2010

Bella Vista Cucina Italiana

LODGED on the busy thoroughfare of Blackheath’s not so tranquil, Tranquil Vale, ‘Bella Vista’ offers fine cooking and comfort – but not a conventionally beautiful view.
Although I lived in Blackheath for years, I never visited on account of a barber’s tale long ago. He insisted he had found a hunching maggot munching his main, receiving only a minor discount when pointing it out. At least the larvae was alive, I suppose...
Fortunately, good news can travel as fast as bad. Since January, the kitchen has been under the tenure of bright talent, Alex Tyndall, formerly of ‘Chapters’ restaurant (under the same umbrella) and Huntingdon’s ‘Old Bridge’ hotel. To craft convincing plates from Italy’s peninsula, he has linked up to a network of artisan suppliers.
Clued-up staff and a helpful gastro-glossary on the menu are good ways of providing communication between Tyndall’s kitchen and the customer. The latter decodes ingredients and preparation styles. Hence I now know that ‘monk’s beard’ is ‘a tangy green leaf vegetable originally cultivated by the monks of Tuscany’, and ‘paccheri’, or ‘slaps’, is a large tube shaped pasta from Naples’.
Watching prams pull past, my friend and I sat in the smaller of the dining rooms facing the street. Here, mirrors fringe mushroom coloured walls dotted with atmospheric black and white photos and cabinets laden with deli goods. Rather than creating an intimidating intimacy, closely placed tables ensure a buzzy atmosphere. This is how I got talking to one of many lady lunchers treating herself to the set lunch after visiting the hairdresser.
After spiced, salted, roasted almonds (£1.65), my fritto of octopus legs (polipo) with fennel and garlic mayonnaise were engagingly muscular beneath greaseless, cakey batter (£5.45). My friend’s pert pappardelle ribbons were thinly cut, curling a soft, succulent, deeply comforting, lamb ragú. This took nine hours to cook (although most of this was done before we arrived!)
Taking up Tyndall’s witty Easter gesture, my slow-cooked French rabbit leg and tightly pancetta bound canister of its other meaty morsels had integrity unlike sometimes sloppy English versions (£15.95). It nudged snappy green beans. My friend’s mixed fish grill might be too generous for some, comprising flaky Loch Duart salmon (a favourite at Chapters), wide, charred squid ring, moist, meaty sea bass, fat oily mackerel and spiky tiger prawns (£15.50).
Tyndall’s Jenga of crisp, lightly seasoned Polenta chips proved the meal’s revelation: the best use for maize I can imagine (£3.10). Finally the flavours of an excellent mascarpone tart on date base were drawn out by a trickle of a Frangelico and hazelnut sauce (£5.50).
Taking up Bella Vista’s ‘fine wine offer’, d’Angelo’s Serra delle Querce, d’Angelo ‘98 tasted even better half price at £40. Merlot softened Aglianico in this slowly ageing, beautifully balanced, bramble, cedar and mineral laden bottle from Italy’s deep south, Basilicata.
BELLA VISTA: 3/5 Montpelier Vale, Blackheath, London. SE3 0TA (11-13mins by overland train from London Bridge)
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