The other side of Canary Wharf in London (the bit just over the south dock which is largely undeveloped and architecturally un-noteworthy) is not necessarily a natural choice to hang out on a freezing Wednesday lunchtime. But it is here that my yacht writer pal, Angie, and I discover something quite unique and remarkable in February that we’re still buzzing about weeks later. A short complimentary taxi ride from the underground station or a fifteen-minute walk (for speedy trotters) will bring you to a delightful spot overlooking the dock. A sort of 1970s building with a glass semi-covered roof houses a bright and elegant, two-level restaurant. The bar and kitchen downstairs, large open-plan dining room and dock viewing gallery upstairs - two fairly chunky yachts were moored during our visit. Bella Cosa somehow manages to retain the old-school charm and manners of a much-loved Puglian trattoria, albeit a very upmarket one. Traditional recipes using regional Italian ingredients – largely focusing on Puglia and Sicily – have been imaginatively reworked and modernised which creates a sort of striking juxtaposition between cuisine and environment, a singular dining experience that must be congratulated. Jolly general manager, Antonio, bounds over to greet us and, upon noting our vexed reaction to a whopping 2-pager, offers to bring out mini tasting plates of his favourites.
First up, a basket of crispy-coated homemade focaccia is presented with fresh rosemary oil. This is swiftly followed by a rich and creamy burrata served with cardoncelli mushrooms and smooth capocollo (dry-cured pork). Scrumptious. Generous curled rolls of silky Scottish smoked salmon glisten on a platter in front of us. Vooom. Devoured effortlessly and enjoyably. This is when things get serious. A hearty portion of homemade orechiette pasta arrives looking plump and overwhelmingly appetising, artistically spattered with fava bean pureé. Creamy, pungent, abundantly fresh.
A pan-fried sea bass, fleshy and juicy, velvety in texture, is accompanied with powerful fennel and a crisp Sicilian blood orange salad. The zesty, vibrant flavours singlehandedly transport us to the sunny shores of the Southern med, mouthful by mouthful. Each course was presented with a superbly paired wine from Southern Italy. But it’s the restaurant’s ability to capture and present a unique creativity that is often blurred in modern cooking. We’re talking seriously creamy octopus carpaccio, steamed and lovingly cured in-house. A generous seared red tuna steak with fresh black ink tagliolini and n’duja made its way over to another diner, wafting pillows of fresh herbs in its wake. Antonio pops back and forth, sharing childhood memoires of long family lunches, and insists on treating us to a final mini-course – a bite-sized pumpkin tortelli with salted butter, sage and a hint of truffle. Pure heaven. Finally, and with little or no space left, waistcoat bulging, a giant martini glass arrives, carefully slipped onto the table in between us, layered with a gorgeously smooth tiramisu; sugar and mascarpone content just so, lashings of marsala wine, grated chocolate and crushed fresh coffee beans. Splendid.
The ability to surprise is what Bella Cosa master so brilliantly. A must-visit for any foodie and well worth the trip out of Central London.
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