Normally, Italian restaurants in Lisbon are not fantastic: either they serve dishes which would make any Italian “mamma” cry tomato juice or which specialize in great pizzas and bland pasta dishes. A good, creamy risotto? Not in a million years. Make way for Bella Ciao then, which seems to attract quite a substantial Italian crowd. A promising sign.
Sometimes you discover something which from the outside looks so rustic and basic that you just know you’ll get good food. From the outside, “Bella Ciao” ticks all of the right boxes for an Italian restaurant: red checkered tableclothes with two long rows of tables in the middle of the room. Two or three separate tables, but no more than that. Oh by the way, all of you restaurateurs, remember how food can bring people together and make you meet and talk to people you’d otherwise not talk to because you’re sharing the same table? This place sure does.
“Bella Ciao” is not the kind of place where you have a lot of choice on the menu: ten pasta dishes, a pasta dish of the day, two salads and a risotto. That’s it. Again, promising. The housewine is rough – but this is really not the kind of place where you go winetasting. This place is rustic and homey and goes for substance over style. The service is impeccable and taylor-suited to the place: nothing too polite or formal, just one or two waiters getting on with it and not wasting time with chitchat or niceties. When the food is good, you don’t have to.
After all of this build up, “Bella Ciao” does not disappoint. In the two times we’ve been there, we had pasta with a simple ground meat sauce (“Tagliatelle Bella Ciao”), tagliatelle with ground lamb, gnocchi with tomato sauce and mozzarella, and pasta with tomato sauce and delicious pork belly. Both times, the pasta was succulent, nicely al dente and the meat sauces were really tasty. I mean, really tasty. Not like your bog-standard bland bolognese, but actually full of flavour just because of the quality of the meat.
And the gnocchi, oh the gnocchi: from their irregular shapes, you could tell they were definitely homemade, they were soft as little baby pillows smothered in runny mozzarella (I guess you really have to like food in order to appreciate this comparison). There’s really not much else to say about it: for less than 10 euros per dish, it was lip-smacking gorgeous. Plus, they also serve up a decent pannacotta, just in case you’d still be hungry afterwards.
Word of warning: make sure to be hungry when you go there. You get a free salad with tuna, some great olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a starter and the portions for the main courses are huge. We were contemplating getting a risotto to share as a first course but were discouraged by the waitress ‘cause it would probably be too much. How right (and nice) she was! “Bella Ciao” is a generous place where we’ll come back to over and over and over again. Yummy. (Nout Van Den Neste)
Opening hours: Mon-Thu: 11:00-16:00 & 19:00-24:00, Fri & Sat: 11:00-16.00 & 19:00-1:00
Address: Rua Crucifixo 21
Phone number: 21 093 5708