The Italian trattoria is a dining experience unrivalled in its reputation for many reasons. The combination of the welcoming family atmosphere, stunning dishes and fresh ingredients are why we often prefer a trattoria to the decadence of fine dining. Lucky for us Wellingtonians, we have one of the top trattorias in the world, right on our doorstep. It is for these very reasons, La Bella Italia has been a staple of our lives for nearly two decades. Owner Antonio Cacace says that despite the many accolades on the walls, this is his proudest achievement, seeing the generations of families return to La Bella, year after year.
The reason we keep returning is that La Bella offers us not only a high quality large menu, with fresh weekly specials, but a salumeria (deli) full of fresh ingredients and a marketplace of top Italian imported goods. The combination of the restaurant with the marketplace means that, you know not only are you getting the best quality of ingredients in your meal, but it is also attainable, meaning you can try it at home. Antonio says this is of the most importance, simply feed your community good and fresh food. This is a lesson he has taken from childhood, and to this day, he still does all of the shopping for the ingredients himself.
The lessons and history of the Cacace family literally support the walls of La Bella. By letting your eyes wander you will see that the inclusion of the salumeria in the restaurant was inspired by the work of his grandfather, Antonio. As your eyes travel further, past the award-winning wines, you'll see a wall plastered with accolades. This includes Antonio's knighthood for his service of contributing Italian culture and food to New Zealand. Atop of these awards, you'll see a framed bent fork, an odd thing to see at first, until Antonio catches your puzzled expression and explains it's his father's, Michelin star chef, Luigi Cacace's, portion control spaghetti fork.
Luigi Cacace's legacy continues to flow through La Bella, through photographs, recipes, and most notably, a family heirloom table. This table, shipped from Luigi's restaurant La Primevera in Massa Lubrense, seats eight people and is completely menuless. This means the chefs will serve you special dishes of the freshest ingredients. However, if you are ordering from the menu, you'll be able to choose from an ever-changing list of these specials. And yet, it is hard to go past the staples, which include a stunning lasagna and sage and parmigiano pork cutlet with sweet potato puree and olive tapenade. If you are desiring a hearty feast to share with friends, pay homage to Luigi Cacace himself by ordering the Pesce Intero Luigi Cacace: baked whole fish dressed with capers, gherkins and extra virgin olive oil.
If you're looking for a more casual bite, grab one of their pizzas. We highly recommend their Bravo Gubello — marinated king salmon, mascarpone and rocket — awarded as one of the top ten pizzas in the world. For something a little different, try the calzones, we promise you'll be dreaming about that first cheesy bite for weeks after.
Yet, most importantly, just make sure you leave room for dessert. We highly recommend their Flan di Cioccolato con Frutti di Bosc — soft-centred Whittaker's chocolate pudding with berry compote and vanilla gelato. A personal favourite is also their Giulia — a warm apple shortcake with vanilla gelato and raspberry sauce. If that wasn't enough, don't forget La Bella also has delightful breakfast menu, that perfectly pairs with your morning espresso.
If also those dishes leave you inspired to try them yourself at home, swing through their market place, or join in their monthly cooking classes or annual tours of Italy.
Image: Lesley Wild.