THE DISH: Bella Vista
Bella Vista//26 Angliiskaya Naberezhnaya//Tel. 312 3238//Open daily from noon till midnight//Menu in Russian and English//Lunch for two without alcohol 3,270 rubles ($107)
Published: November 2, 2011 (Issue # 1681)
A view with a price
Bella Vista, which opened in August in the former premises of the upscale restaurant Kashtany (Les Chataignes), more than lives up to its new name, with windows looking out across the River Neva directly onto the stately Academy of Arts. Back in the summer, it had a summer terrace, which is undoubtedly the best way to make the most of the view.
Inside, much of the appearance of its predecessor has remained, such as the unvarnished floorboards, and the feeling of quality that oozed from every inch of Chataignes has also been inherited by its successor, from the thick embossed cream menus that are reminiscent of wedding invitations to the funky designer crockery and dazzling starched tablecloths.
Bella Vista has also inherited its predecessor’s tradition of excellent service. On a recent visit, the endearing waiter could not have been more helpful, while managing to avoid even approaching obsequiousness. In addition to an excellent breadbasket accompanied by olive oil and balsamic sauce, two generous porcelain ladles of olives were brought out as a compliment from the chef.
The menu is seafood heavy, and consequently, not cheap. An octopus salad at Bella Vista will set you back 850 rubles ($28), while seafood soup is an extravagant 1,900 rubles ($62). Oysters are available at 220 rubles ($7) per mollusc. Bella Vista does not have a business lunch; it does however have a “day menu” on which nothing exceeds 360 rubles ($12).
As well as the seafood and a range of traditional Italian dishes, chef Stefano Zaffrani, who also launched the kitchen at Serafino earlier this year, offers his own original dishes, such as avocado soup with pink pepper and strips of smoked salmon. From this range of atypical culinary creations came the cold tomato soup with Burrata cheese.
The pink soup was an extraordinary dish that tasted like nothing else on earth. The only things that could be established with any certainty was that the soup contained a healthy amount of fresh basil, and that the generous lump of delightfully salty Burrata in the center was almost enough to warrant the 760-ruble ($25) price tag on its own. Beyond that, all was conjecture. Were there hints of cucumber and even strawberry in the frothy liquid, or was that our imagination? The ever-helpful waiter confided that the pink color was a result of yet more cheese being blended in with the tomatoes, which explained why, despite the zesty freshness and apparent lightness of the dish, it suddenly revealed itself to be extremely filling. (It should be added that it was also an extremely generous portion.)
Another appetizer of rich sundried tomatoes with oregano priced at 180 rubles ($6) served in a hip bowl with an oversized rim was equally generous — especially for the price — and would be a perfect dish to order for a group to share, tapas-style.
The presentation at Bella Vista cannot be faulted. An entree of seabass (1,200 rubles, $40) was a healthy portion of fish artfully decorated with cockles and mussels still in their shells, and drizzled with a divine ratatouille and pine nut sauce. The garnish in fact turned out to be more impressive than the fish itself, which was disappointingly bland and would have benefited from being served with fresh lemon to add some zing.
A pizza Margherita (280 rubles, $9), transformed at our request into a pizza Vegetariana (for which the price almost doubled to 530 rubles, $17), was another bitter disappointment, especially after the high standards set by the spectacular soup. Surprisingly chewy and soggy, close inspection revealed its base to be only half-cooked at best. Liberal application of both tomato sauce and chili oil — back in the kitchen, rather than upon request at the table — exacerbated these flaws.
The main mystery at Bella Vista, however, is not the discrepancy between the quality of various dishes, but whom the restaurant is targeting from its discreet location on the English Embankment. We were the only diners there for the entire duration of our visit.
The restaurant is located next to the city’s romantically named Wedding Palace No. 1, but with these prices, only the most well-heeled couples could afford to celebrate their big day here.