It had been years between trips to Bella Italia. The last time I visited it was actually called Bella Pasta, so clearly before their 2002 re-brand. This also means I visited before I became a mum for the first time. EEEKK! With Zizzi proving how easy it is to grab vegan pizza in a chain restaurant I decided we’d give Bella a long overdue shot.
I have to say, having Frankie & Benny’s directly opposite probably wasn’t the wisest positioning of units. Grey’s Quarter is a sea of shiny new units, all vying for the Geordie pound.
Rather than having to request the allergen book, Bella have marked which items are suitable for vegetarians and vegans on their ‘regular’ menu. It has long been a bone of contention with Mr. Canny getting a separate folder; with him stating this is a lifestyle and not an intolerance or allergy to an ingredient. The beers and wines were not listed in such a manner. more’s the pity.
I decided to have an Aperol Spritz (£6.49) to celebrate the end of my first fortnight as a vegan. I hadn’t tucked into dairy cheese on the sly and managed to stay strong when the Teen wafted a Wispa under my nose. I’d earned this bittersweet tipple.
The Teen ordered Bruschetta (£5.49) as an appetiser while waiting for Mr. Canny to join us. Upon examining the options, things looked scarce with Olives the only starter cited as suitable for vegans. I was unsure as to why tomato-topped bread would be a problem so enquired what the allergen menu said. Definitely unsuitable, but no explanation why. I can only presume one of the issues may be L-Cysteine. If you haven’t heard about what this is potentially derived from, look it up. Bread never looked less appealing.
Once Mr. Canny arrived it was decided we would share one of their ‘Create Your Own’ pizzas (£10.79), which are vegan minus the cheese. I have been spoilt with so many places serving up alternatives, and worried this vegetable topped base would feel lacking without the dairy. What pleasantly surprised me was how much I enjoyed the marinara base.
The Teen ordered their Traditional Lasagne (£10.99), which I feel I have to skip over since his decision to reintroduce meat into his diet. I would never force my opinion on another and he is definitely old enough to make his own choices. It was a particular favourite of his, pre-vegetarianism, and this was the first time he’d eaten it in over a year.
Mr. Canny’s Lentil Ragu was delicious. With a hint of spice in the ragu, I feel Bella Italia’s beats the Zizzi version of the same dish into a cocked hat.
My pick of Spiralised Vegetable Spaghetti (£8.29) was came in a watery sauce, which didn’t look very appealing. Thankfully the dish tasted better than appeared, although I much preferred Mr. Canny’s to my own. This lighter choice will suit those who are watching their waistlines after the excesses of Christmas, and those who eat meat and/or seafood can opt to top this with prawns, bolognese or lamb to make it more substantial. At under 150 calories for my main I was wanting to look at the dessert menu!
Expecting the standard sorbet offering – especially after seeing the ice cream cart as we walked in – I was shocked to discover Bella Italia had a chocolate cake that was suitable for those who are gluten-free and vegan. We decided to share this rich cake, although we could have probably managed a slice each. The cherry sauce cut through some of the richness of the fudge sauce it was topped with. The boy picked his favourite – Vanilla Cheesecake. It looked a bit lacklustre compared to the photo on their website. Like most teenage boys, he didn’t complain as he shovelled it down.
Although there aren’t a huge amount of options for vegans on the menu at Bella Italia, they were some standouts for us. We would definitely return for the Chocolate Cake and the Lenticchie, but feel their Starters need improvement. An adaption of a Garlic Bread is simple enough to offer those who avoid dairy and meat and seems like a missed opportunity for the chain. Pasta Pomodoro and Salad – the other vegan main course options – seem uninspired additions too. Still, it’s reassuring to see another high street name realising how important it is to cater for those with dietary requirements.
Thanks for reading,