Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bella Donna – Mercato Mall, Jumeirah

In a nutshell: Casual dining with good food and well-priced
4/5

For the second time this weekend we ate at an Italian restaurant, somewhat less upmarket than Thursday night but also not hotel prices. We were welcomed by a friendly manager but we found it strange that with all the staff available, he seemed to be waiting a lot of the tables and taking orders. All the staff we passed also greeted us and smiled so a genuine welcome but would the service match up?

Bella Donna has outside seating on a large terrace looking out to the sea, but at lunch time we decided it was just a bit too hot to be sat outside. The table we were given was near the door to the terrace though and so after one too many blasts of hot air we asked to be moved somewhere else. Our new table gave us a view into the open kitchen area and we were impressed that the ventilation is good enough that none of the cooking smells or smoke come out into the restaurant.

The décor is black and white with big black and white photos of 1950s stars – all very funky and modern. The salsa music was great but I have to say that I prefer to hear Italian music in an Italian restaurant, not Spanish. They could also do with getting small surround-sound speakers since they only had two large speakers to cover the whole restaurant and so sitting near one of them was a bit loud. Away from the terrace door, the temperature was just right and no pashmina was needed which is always a bonus.

The fresh juices available are the same as at Japengo and other Bin Hendi restaurants. They are freshly made to order and my pineapple juice came with a big frothy top on it – none of these ‘squeezed that morning and kept in the fridge’ affairs. The food itself was very nice, but didn’t blow us away. Simon’s Italian burger was huge and he had to remove the top piece of bread just to be able to taste anything other than bread. His first bite elicited a “This is really good” but by the end he’d decided he wouldn’t order it another time since it was too dry and ‘bread-y’.

My poached salmon was more successful but, as with Thursday night, there were only 3 thin stalks of asparagus served with it and a few cherry tomatoes – a few more vegetables would not have gone amiss. The salmon is served in the saffron poaching liquid it’s cooked in, whilst it was nice it was a bit like a thin soup and my personal preference would be to serve it with a creamy saffron sauce instead. My request for no pepper was followed though! At Japengo’s I usually have the grilled salmon and I would have to say that dish wins over the poached one of Bella Donna.

The service was excellent; we were able to attract a waiter’s attention very quickly and as soon as we finished our juices we were offered more. I also noticed that the chef on the fresh juice counter was keeping an eye on tables and calling waiters when he saw a customer needed someone. Being so close to the kitchen, I also saw a chef chewing gum…not quite so impressive.

In terms of price, this was very good and the total bill for two was only Dhs 150 (Dhs 100 on food and Dhs 50 on fresh juice and water). Starters range from Dhs 40-80, pasta Dhs 40-55, pizza Dhs 30-50, mains Dhs 55-90 and desserts Dhs 25.

I wouldn’t drive down to Mercato just to eat here, but would certainly come here again if I was in the area.

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