Bellita is the younger sister of Bristol stalwart Bell’s Diner and sits squarely in the ‘throw a stick and hit somewhere good to eat’ enclave of Cotham Hill.
The name works on a personal level, too: it’s what my four year old used to call my mother, her first approximation of ‘Abuelita‘, which I take as a good omen.
There’s a relaxed charm to the restaurant: as we eat, a friend of the owner drops by with a basket of herbs fresh from his garden and it doesn’t feel out of place.
The menu is compact, augmented by a specials board, and influences centre on the Mediterranean; so there are plump little anchovies in vinegar, there’s a spankingly fresh salad of tomatoes, red onion peaches with burrata.
There are plenty of familiar tapas here, delivered with élan. Instead of measuring out my life in Prufrockian coffee spoons, I have done it in deep-fried treats. Big occasions as a child always meant one thing: croquetas. Special times meant croquetas, and croquetas meant special times. They were always the thing I’d badger my mother for, the reason for crossed fingers and muttered prayers before celebrations. As a result, my standards are exacting, which is a polite way to say ‘picky’, I suppose.
And Bellita’s are exemplary, studded with salty little nuggets of jamón, the bechamel just dense enough to hold together within a crisp shell. They wobble. They ooze. They are some of the very best I’ve eaten in the UK (y Madre, si estás leyendo esto, por favor… perdóname.)
And just as good- better, perhaps?- are patatas bravas. These are so often underwhelming, or downright disappointing, but here they are note perfect. There’s more than a hint of intent from the smoked paprika and a heftily alioli.
Prawns are meaty, garlicky and dripping with butter; hence, wonderful. This is, simultaneously, a dish to be lingered over and to fall upon ravenously. Once you’ve torn them apart and sucked the heads clean- and I repeat: if you don’t, you’re dead to me- there’s plenty of mopping up to be done. The freshly-baked bread, still warm, comes in handy here.
Padrón peppers turn up blistered and steaming in the signature earthenware bowl- the inevitable game of roulette follows- and then morcilla (blood sausage) teams with a full-bodied chorizo in a kind of ‘preserved pork greatest hits’ double whammy.
Next are silky little pillows of gnocchi in a ragu which has intensified its flavours with hours of patient cooking, the ox cheek braised to the point of collapsing in strands.
Even as I write this, looking out at dishwater-grey skies and a drearily insistent mizzle in the air, these stand as splashes of Mediterranean sunshine.
It’s the proliferation of places like this which makes Bristol important as a city for food lovers. It feels impossible to eat here and not to enjoy it. Bellita is, truly, a little beauty, and another enviable
34 Cotham Hill
Lunch and early evening deal:
Three starred dishes from the menu for £10
Monday – Wednesday: 6pm-10pm
Thursday – Saturday: noon-3pm
Monday to Wednesday: 6pm-11pm
Thursday to Saturday: noon-11pm
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.