Normally when a restaurant owner bellows “everything’s good!” it isn’t. Bella Mia’s big surprise is that it actually is.
It’s a surprise because all the forboding clues are there: a gaudy Venetian theme, a waitress who explains pasta varieties through charades, a dastardly no-free-water policy and timing that brings everything out together like dim sum.
But from the simple yet loaded menu we could only pick winners. The whole grilled sea bass with baby new potatoes (RMB138) is understated, succulent and meaty. In the absence of ravioli we gave the hand gesture for cavatelli (RMB88) a try. The robust, curled slices of pasta fit a self-supporting shrimp and cherry tomato sauce to a tee.
All these serve as fitting warm-ups for what is in contention for the best pizza in town. There’s only one way to do this: incredibly fresh dough, a wafer-thin base and a blisteringly hot oven. Bella Mia has all three as the capricciosa (RMB88), with parma ham, artichokes, mushrooms and mozzarella is heaven-blessed with a perfectly thin and crisp crust. It alone is worth returning for. There are another 20-plus topping options.
Desserts are far away from the unimaginative sorbet-in-a-lemon offered in other flashier Italian spots. The mango Bavarian topped with chocolate (RMB32) is well executed, light and full of flavor.
Bella Mia, in the no man’s land between Hengshan Lu and Huaihai Lu, is a new go-to for good, affordable Italian. As owner, Varesano, struts around the courtyard chirping at diners he knows it: you’ll be back for more.