Bella Napoli, Ristorante Napoletana, 4B Qogol Street (by Malokan Gardens), Baku Tel.: 012 498 0907
There’s this little place I walk past so often on Qogol Street right by Malokan Gardens and pretty much catty corner from Vapiano. It’s called Bella Napoli and looks just like those little Italian suburban restaurants that are made to look ‘authentic’ and ‘rustic’, distressed green painted wood, logs, gingham table linen, candles in Chianti bottles, invariably ‘O Sole Mio’ on the stereo and often waiters in too tight black trousers, putting on the heavy Italian accent. ‘Youa knowa whadda meana, signorina’, flourish, flounce. It’s easy to walk on by and head to the much more modern, cool Vapiano for your pizza and pasta but fond as I am of it, sometimes it’s just nice to try something else and, frankly, I have never been able to resist a charming Italian.
Intriguingly and really quite hilariously, there are six reviews of Bella Napoli on Tripadvisor, one rating it as ‘terrible’, one rating it as ‘poor’, two as ‘average’. Then, the two most recent ones, bypassing ‘very good’ altogether, rate it enthusiastically as ‘excellent’. I’m not questioning the possibility that the restaurant may have improved beyond all recognition recently, these things do happen, but what’s funny, is that these reviews telling us that it’s outstanding, come quite hot on the heels of the one that really slates it. Not only that, but the latest happy reviewer purports to be ‘John’ from London though strangely, good as his English is, it’s clearly written with a foreign accent shining through loud and clear: “Once we entered to us was offered beautiful table for 4 persons.” ‘John’ was also very pleased about the ‘advices’ he got, always a dead giveaway! Far be it for me to accuse anyone, least of all the restaurant management, of lending a ‘helping hand’ to this restaurant’s review section but it does rather make you quietly snigger into your napkin, doesn’t it?
The only way to really find out whether Bella Napoli is ‘terrible’ or ‘excellent’ or somewhere inbetween, was for me to try it myself. Feeling experimental, three of us headed there one Monday evening, one friend fresh from a weekend in Gebela with stories to tell and photos of snowy mountains and spectacular scenery.
Bella Napoli is a cosy little place, cute in it’s predictably ‘rustico Italiano’ way, somewhere where you can imagine spending a fun and easygoing evening a deux, with the whole family or in a group of friends. It’s simple but comfortable and yes, indeed, there are alternating red and white and blue and white gingham napkins! To my delight, they offer Tall Horse Sauvignon, a nice light dry French white wine which they also have at the much more upmarket Kaspia in the Four Seasons, so that was a very good start. The three of us shared two Greek salads between us which were nice and fresh and crunchy. The intrepid Gebele traveller chose ‘Salmon grilled with Brussels cabbage with rice’ or ‘Trancio di salmon alla mediterranea’ . She reported that the fish fillet was excellent, moist and perfectly done with not a single bone in sight. Four little Brussels sprouts came on a separate dish. I tried one and found it a bit sweet and watery but she liked them and she also approved of the rice which again, I found an odd accompaniment as there was no sauce but for her, and despite it being not remotely Mediterranean, it obviously worked, and she found her whole meal very tasty. Us other two each had a pizza, one Picante with salami and one Pizza Pepperoni. Of the two, I personally preferred the Picante because it was a little spicier but both were fairly good. Were they the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten? No, definitely not, but they were perfectly fine and with the nice wine, the excellent company and good service, it was all very pleasant.
The dessert was strange but, trust me, really yummy. Our one portion of cheesecake (obviously!) to share came under a Russian hat sized cover of white candy floss! And yes, we ate it all! The cheesecake itself, with a strawberry coulis and a few fresh strawberries may not have been quite in the same league as that of the Baku Roasting Company -which cheesecake is?- but it was very moreish all the same and not a crumb was left! The coffees were tiptop too.
Bearing in mind that we had two bottles of wine totalling AZN56 plus two small bottles of water and two coffees, the final bill of AZN165.90 for three of us, including 5% service charge, really isn’t too bad, working out at roughly AZN35 per head.
I liked the place a lot. Sure, it’s not gourmet Italian and not on a par with Scalini, Da Massimo, Zafferano et al but it’s friendly, uncomplicated and an enjoyable little neighbourhood restaurant. I’ll be giving it a genuine ‘very good’ rating on TripAdvisor!