Ciao Bella, Leeds – Restaurant Review
By Matt Callard
The space you eat in can make a meal and, equally, ruin it. One Manchester-based Thai restaurant might recently have been serving the best Red Curry I had ever tasted. Only my elbows were perilously close to knocking over a couple’s bottle of wine on an adjacent table. And I was much too disturbed by their conversation about I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’s bush tucker trials to actually come close to enjoying the food in front of me. Gimme some room, man!
Likewise, the piazza in the redeveloped Corn Exchange might be architecturally pleasing. But, for me anyway, it’s a soulless aircraft hangar of an eating venue. What about intimacy? There can be such a thing as too much space. And sometimes the food and the environment are ill-matched. The holily-laundered precision of fine dining and the convivial warm fires of gastro food should never collide. But they frequently do.
Which brings us to Ciao Bella. Neatly positioned on one of Leeds’s prettiest short cuts (Dock Street). It boasts, perhaps, the most elegant restaurant interior in the city. A converted modern synthesis of bare brick and chrome. It is at one with the modern surroundings, yet maintains a crucial rustic Italian charm. The venue’s only problem might be that Dock Street, despite hosting cool businesses and the odd passing member of the trendy set, is hardly a thronging thoroughfare. Ciao Bella needs to be discovered. The good thing is, if you do discover it, you’ll probably want to keep coming back.
“A fine contrast of flavours and textures”
The proprietor is Italian (from near Verona) but has lived in Leeds for many years. He clearly understands Yorkshire preferences. So expect a hearty informal welcome and plenty of Italian hospitality.
The menu is as classic as classic Italian can be. The small rings of Calamari starters (£5.95) are pleasingly light alongside a sharp homemade tartar sauce. My partner’s Aubergine Lasagne (£4.50) from the specials’ board was nicely layered. The sauce is perfectly balanced and seasoned. Plus, importantly, the lasagne isn’t drowning in the stuff!
Vitello Milanese (£14.95) is an Italian food masterpiece when correctly done. A fine contrast of flavours and textures (meaty, peppery, citrusy / crunchy, smooth, crisp). It is simple in principle but needs skill in the execution. Ciao Bella get it just right. The flattened veal incredibly tender and full of taste, the breadcrumbs and batter just light and crunchy enough, the salad perfectly peppery, the pasta, naturally, spot on. Although I did have to ask for a slice of lemon for that citrus burst.
“Deep and smoky pepperoni and a just-right blast of chilli”
A Rigattoni All Arrabiata (£7.95) is heavy with flavour. Lashings of garlic, a lovely fresh tomato sauce, deep and smoky pepperoni and a just-right blast of chilli. Again, the balance – absolutely pivotal to good Italian food – is just right.
Throughout the meal we are introduced to a few splendid Italian beers. From the ultra-light to the wickedly dark. Here’s a tip: ask for two glasses, share the bottles and let the excellent and super-friendly service bring three or four different varieties over to you while you eat. You won’t regret it.
Ciao Bella: the best Italian in the city? Possibly. The best eating venue in the city? Without a doubt. Discover it now.
Ciao Bella, 20 Dock Street, Leeds, LS10 1JF
0113 246 9444
Opening Times: Sunday to Thursday, Midday – 10.30pm
Friday & Saturday, Midday – 11pm