Bella Mbriana - restaurant review
An Italian restaurant like you get in Italy? You’ve got to be kidding
There are, probably, too many Italian restaurants around. Don’t take this the wrong way: Italian cuisine and, perhaps more importantly, the Italian attitude to food, bows to no-one on earth. Yet a month hardly passes without the appearance of another new Italian in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Plenty arrive with enthusiasm, a few with promise, but what too many end up offering is predictable and pedestrian.
Here’s a test. If you’ve been to Italy, and eaten well there (it’s hard not to come back inspired in some way), why is it that your first meal back in an Italian restaurant here is so disappointing?
There are honourable exceptions. Some – VinCaffè, Centotre, Zanzero – have a stylish, sophisticated, northern Italian verve. A few of the old school are standard bearers of a nobler era.
But now down at the foot of Broughton Street in Edinburgh, where the Sundial Launderette and the fleetingly iconic Lost Sock Diner once hung out, there’s another new Italian restaurant. It is one to notice.
The name Bella Mbriana is a Neapolitan phrase meaning ‘soul of the house’. Nice sentiment, if a bit of a struggle to pronounce. It actually looks quite Italian, not with Chianti bottles and pictures of the Azzurri but faux stone walls, stylish lightshades and garish leather seating in the basement bar. The English spoken by much of the waiting staff is on a par with the English spoken by waiting staff in your average restaurant in Naples.
The menu is short. This is a good sign. Another good sign is what it doesn’t contain: endless variations of pizza, pasta and tomato sauce. The dishes are a daily selection with their own integrity and identity. As a starter, clams and mussels are cooked with olive oil, garlic, chilli, white wine, parsley and a few cherry tomatoes. If the clams and mussels aren’t fresh and full of flavour, the dish just wouldn’t work. A main with lemon sole cooked in olive oil with a dash of Grappa, served with grilled fennel and roasted little tomatoes will have you waving for bread to mop up the flavours. Like you do in Italy.
The inspiration for chef Rosario Sartore, previously proprietor at La Partenope on Dalry Road, is the rustic, regional cooking of southern Italy, but he’s not beholden only to his homeland. He says that the dishes are lighter here than at La Partenope, principally because the quality and freshness of what’s available locally is so much improved recently. He then extols the virtues not of some three-week hung Aberdeen Angus, but the mixed organic salad leaves from Phantassie in East Lothian. That’s proper Italian attitude.
7–11 East London Street, 0131 558 9581, open Tue–Sun, lunch and dinner. Average price for two courses £18