You don’t go to Ciao Bella for the most perfect pasta, or pizza, in London - though the food here is generous in its portions and flavour. No, the reason you go to Ciao Bella is for the best possible time. This place has got it going on. For over three decades this old-school Italian restaurant has been the absolute life and soul of Bloomsbury. Come here on a Saturday night and you’ll immediately wish you were with more people, no matter the size of your group. It’s the kind of restaurant where the aubergine parmigiana doesn’t matter quite as much as the story you’re listening to.
The party starts outside, on Ciao Bella’s famous terrace. Need something rebranded? Forget talking to a ‘creative’ agency, just speak to this lot. In the early 80s, they stuck a canopy up, bought some heaters, and transformed one end of Lamb’s Conduit Street into London’s most happening outdoor ‘terrace’. You are, undeniably, still on the pavement. The gum gives it away. Anyway, who cares, because you won’t. Especially when it’s absolutely chocka in mid-November, and you’re eating prosciutto and melon and chugging some merlot. You’re 15 minutes away from King’s Cross but it feels more like 15 hours.
Inside the atmosphere is much the same. Only there are black and white portraits, and a man called Norman playing the piano. So, actually, it’s probably better. Nothing spells party more than a room full of noise and bag of seafood spaghetti - Ciao Bella’s must-order dish - being piled onto your plate. Everyone here, from those who remember the Generation Game, to Generation whatever, are doing the same thing: eating gargantuan portions of spaghetti, spilling wine, and ordering another bottle because Norman’s just started a singalong.
To be honest, if you leave Ciao Bella analysing your spaghetti con polpette, then something has gone very wrong. This restaurant is so much more valuable than a bowl of perfect handmade pasta. It will feed you well and make you happy. So much so that when we eventually keel over, this is where we want our wake. Not because Ciao Bella will stuff everyone into a stupor, but because it’s one of the most perfect celebrations of eating out in London.
Ham and melon is ham and melon and, sure, this isn’t the best ham and melon you’ll ever eat, but it’s nowhere near the worst either.
Everyone who’s ever made aubergine parmigiana knows that it’s a bit of a slog, but a deliciously worthwhile one at that. This one won’t have your love, sweat, and tears in it, but it still tastes good.
We’ve often stared at our ingredients-filled bag of shopping willing it to cook itself. Ordering this seafood spaghetti in a white wine sauce is like it’s actually happened. It’s emptied, with its trademark single prawn, onto your plate from a greaseproof bag. It’s the go-to dish at Ciao Bella.
Who can say no to a trough of spaghetti and meatballs? Someone who doesn’t eat veal, that’s who. If that isn’t you then these ones are nice enough
They say this veal ravioli is in a butter sauce, but it’s more a butter sauce with a guest appearance from some ravioli. We’re quite into it.
This seafood risotto, like its spaghetti sibling, is piled high with mussels, clams, squid, and another single prawn. It’s almost as tasty.
By the end of most meals at Ciao Bella half your group will be smoking out front and the other half will be ordering tiramisu. You want to be part of the second group.