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Bella Italia: authentic Italian cuisine in the heart of Oxford

Penny Young

A step away from the Oxford Playhouse sits Bella Italia, a chain that feels like a small family-run restaurant in Italy. It’s authentically Italian in almost every way, from its décor to its menu packed with Italian ingredients including their new fresh pasta made by the Gaetarelli family ‘pastificio’ in Lake Garda. The one thing that disconnects the restaurant from real-life Europe is that it does actually offer a wide variety of labeled vegetarian and vegan dishes, which is a welcome adaptation for the UK market.

The restaurant is buzzing with energy, and feels youthful but cosy. Its candles are made from used wine bottles in true Millenium style, and each table has a view of the busy street outside; the numerous passers-by offer a great conversation starter or cover for an escape attempt if you’re stuck on an awkward first date. What’s even better is that they have a 50% off student discount on all pasta and classic pizzas Monday-Wednesday with a student ID, or alternatively 2 for 1 on cocktails. I tried the Bella Mojito with fresh mint leaves which was cooling and delicious, and I would recommend going to Bella for the drinks alone.

Bella Italia deliver on the classics as well as offering more adventurous alternatives from their new menu

Italian food’s essence is its high quality but simple ingredients, which is why it is so easily ruined by the student lifestyle – the typical student’s supermarket-own-brand pesto and fusilli is not what Italian cuisine is all about, surprisingly enough – and Bella Italia deliver on the classics as well as offering more adventurous alternatives from their new menu. Highlights include the new Arrostro Platter to share, which has a great selection of oven-food (which no one realizes the value of until they are forced to live with only a hob) and the classic British Italian starter, dough balls. Better quality than those found at most other Italian restaurants, their dough balls are a great option if you’re ordering pasta for your main but you’re craving some pizza dough. The Roma pizzas are very large and great to share, or to keep for yourself if you’ve got a big appetite, and come in a lot of interesting varieties including the new Pollo Pesto pizza which has Pesto from the Contino family in Liguria. The highlight of the dessert menu is the shot glass desserts, which you can either have all five of yourself, or share between the table.

Bella Italia satisfies a craving for Italian food that is less guilt-inducing than a takeaway pizza, and if you use the student discount or get takeaway, it will also be cheaper – that’s a win-win all round.

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