It was with some happiness that I was invited to a dinner being organised for South Easters, at Bella Vista Cucina Italiana in the rather lovely Blackheath; a mere 10 minutes from my flat. I'd met all the people round the table bar a couple, and we're firm friends; we stick together in our little corner of the capital.
Huge fat buttery green olives tided us over while we sipped on lovely pear-scented glasses of Prosecco. A special set menu of 6 smaller dishes all of which are on the menu was devised for our table with the wines, all Italian, matched by Ben Smith of Enotria.
To start, 'calamari ripeni with sauteed monk's beard'. A new vegetable to me, it was much like a slightly stringier spinach. The tube was stuffed with the tentacles of the squid mixed with basil, spincah and pine nuts. A smooth, rich tomato sauce complemented it nicely.
Next up, a plateful of bresaola with goats cheese, beetroot and rocket. The beef, properly from the bull was thinly sliced and flavoursome. A swig of the wine, a fruity, cherry-scented Dolcetto Nirane Ascheri '09 brought out the beefy, bloody flavour well. A drizzle of olive oil over the leaves was gorgeously fruity, though the goats cheese slightly overwhelmed the flavour of the beef and was more suited to being smeared over the toasted slice of bread.
Grilled mackerel with anchovy, caper and fennel was the best wine and food match of the evening. The fish, stuffed with the anchovy and caper was beautifully fresh and crisp-skinned. Accompanying it, the salsa di Pomodoro was studded with pearl barley which managed to have a moreish creamy quality to it. A crisp '08 Pinot Bianco Classici from Colterenzio was citrussy without being acidic and had a slight flavour of honey to it, mellowing the aniseed tang of the fennel that was cooked until it was juicy, lurking beneath. We all loved this dish, and even converted someone who was previously dubious about the fish. I wanted more.
A pasta dish of Paccheri Amatriciana was a lesson in simplicity. Big fat slappy pasta tubes, cooked to al dente sat in a tomato sauce studded with bacon and basil, topped with a shaving of Pecorino. Being the pasta fiend I am, I finished mine off in no time and helped another diner out with theirs. It's reassuring to see a deft hand with pasta at an Italian restaurant.
Our final savoury course of the night, grilled lamb rump with marjoram sauce, looked mouth-watering. The slices of lamb were pink and tender, but the sauce had a bitter edge which was mildly tempered by the semi-dried tomatoes, though not enough so. The meat sat upon a smooth cannellini bean mash which wasn't to my taste; slightly floury in texture, I'd have preferred polenta or potato (I still ate it all). The Parusso Barolo '05 had a hint of vanilla and tobacco about it and while it was full-bodied, the lamb stood up well to it.
Full to the point of dangerous shirt-button-straining territory, I prayed for a light dessert. The date and mascarpone tart with Frangelico and hazelnut sauce was a delight, and one of the highlights - not something I often say about desserts. The filling was mousse-like in consistency, the pastry crumbly and buttery. It all had just the right amount of sweetness so as to not be cloying or sickly. Crunchy hazelnuts scattered around the plate were scooped up and shovelled in. The '06 Morsi di Luce I felt clashed ever so slightly with it, as it was a touch too sweet for my tastes and I enjoyed it more after I'd finished the dish.
Head chef Alex Tyndall, formerly of Michelin-starred Chapter One (a favourite of my family), came out to have a chat with us. Clearly passionate about finding the best ingredients, he's been cooking at Bella Vista only for a few months and it's obvious that with him at the helm, this place will do well. Quite frankly, it's a relief; Greenwich and Blackheath, both such lovely places to live near, used to have absolutely zip-zero decent eateries. With places like this and reportedly The Old Brewery (of which I haven't visited), things are looking up.
We paid up happily and waddled out to our cabs - shared, of course, since we're all locals. The next morning I woke up thinking about that pasta. I could've eaten it for breakfast.
3/5 Montpelier ValeBlackheath
London SE3 0TA
Tel: 020 8318 1143