The plan was to meet at the pub next door, then pop over to Ciao Bella for a low-key bite. And what an experience! There’s seldom a vibe that can be matched by a bustling cheery Italian restaurant – this place was absolutely heaving, filled with happy, chatting people and fuelled by the boisterous waiters rushing about despatching plates to tables with a certain brash informality.
The piano player was over on one side of the room, standing behind his upright piano (no room for anything else in here!), and making his way between lounge standards and old songs that everyone knows – though you could scarcely hear him over the din.
I wouldn’t give this place any awards for the food, that’s for sure. But you get the feeling it’s more designed as the Cheap & Cheerful student haunt or casual meal spot – and who complains about a starter being a plate of microscopic previously frozen prawns in sauce when it’s only cost you £6.50, and you’ve got access to bottles of house red wine for £13.50. In Bloomsbury!
Spaghetti Carbonara is a bit like the Sweet & Sour Pork equivalent of Chinese food – it’s probably not particularly authentic or subtle, but you can get it almost everywhere, and I really like it: so that’s my Italian yardstick. And on this occasion it was… different. Not bad at all, but certainly not what I was expecting. But again – for £8, and accompanied by wine, good vibe, and excellent conversation, I’d go back in & have it tomorrow!
The piano player belts out a chorus of Old MacDonald’s Farm from the piano, totally unnoticed by anyone. We applaud at the end: he looks up with surprise that anyone’s paid any attention and smiles at us, where many others in the room stop talking to see what the fuss was about, and several suddenly realise there’s a piano there. The restaurant was full when we arrived, and people are still arriving as we leave.