But after scrupulously hunting for a tempting Italian hotspot, an inviting corner of London Road cropped up as runner-up on The News’ list of the ‘7 best Italian restaurants’ according to our readers.
There are certain expectations that come with dining at an Italian restaurant. Is the pasta hand-made? Is the service second to none – as one may anticipate from traditional custom.
Will there be a selection of antipasti or bread to start that beg the attention of virgin olive oils?
There are so many boxes to tick. But Bella Calabria delivered and went beyond DD and companion’s expectations.
The name translates to beautiful Calabria – the region at the toe of Italy from whence the owners of this restaurant originate.
What makes this venue stand out is that it’s a little gem amid a field of kebab houses, pizza places and fried chicken shops.
Perhaps not the easiest place to spot, but well worth it.
On arrival we are asked how we are, before being led through the (very empty) restaurant and seated at the front of the restaurant by the window.
It is a Sunday night after all, and they’re clearly trying to use us to attract some more punters. Our servers are attentive, friendly and gladly obliging to our requests.
Within minutes we are asked for our drinks order - a Pepsi (£3) and a bottle of Peroni (£3.70) – both fairly reasonable.
Multiple dishes jump out at me as potentials for my evening meal, however tonight I’m craving pasta, in a rich and indulgent sauce.
Too often I opt for pizza, which my companion orders – a pizza Quattro Stagioni (£9.50). This comes with toppings of mozzarella, tomato, onions, peppers, mushrooms and ham.
Dish Detective is grinning because tonight I can get the best of both worlds. I order the Tortelloni Alla Bolognese (£10.50).
The pasta is stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach. I’ve only ever had this before once and it was a supermarket’s take on the dish with no sauce. This, clearly, was handmade pasta. And fresh.
The pasta is covered in a rich Bolognese sauce. One where you can just tell it’s been lovingly cooked behind the scenes, the meat soaking up the juices for hours on end.
It was perfect. Our smiley waitress serves our food only 20 minutes after we’d ordered. A big tick.
It feels authentic, and our waitress lifts up a huge pepper grinder to season our food at the table. She then offers parmesan. I opt in and watch as it melts away into a heavenly sauce and my stomach is growling in anticipation at this point.
I don’t know what it is about being personally served grated cheese and pepper at the table but it feels homely and comforting.
The flavours in this dish are fresh, balanced and rich. Without sounding too clichéd, this is how I would want my food to taste if I was in Italy, taking in the rolling hills of Tuscany, seated at a rooftop restaurant. One can dream.
We are much too full to consider wiping out the meal with a dessert. There is a cabinet by the bar comprising various cakes and tarts which look dreamy. But we are conscious of sticking to a budget – so we are happy to leave on a high note after a phenomenal meal.
The interior at Bella Calabria is open plan and you can see exactly what's happening in the kitchen.
It’s refreshing to see how our food is being prepared and that the ingredients that need to be fresh, are. Of all the Italian eateries in Portsmouth, this is the one I’ll take family and friends to.
Ratings (Out of 5):