Ciao Bella is a London gem, hidden in the heart of historic Bloomsbury, on Lamb's Conduit Street. This Italian is one of just a handful of London restaurants that I can safely say will never disappoint.
They are not looking for Michelin stars or culinary accolades, so you won't find any adventurous dishes on the menu, or be titillated by the presentation, but they are looking to feed you home-style Italian food, and feed you well. It isn't trendy by any means, so mercifully (for purely selfish reasons) avoids inclusion in the usual London gourmet lists and guides. Until October, that is, when it appeared in this London Lite article: 'Where top chefs eat'.
As always, a packed restaurant is a failsafe sign of good food. Ciao Bella isn't on a busy tourist thoroughfare, so I used to be surprised to find I had to book two weeks in advance, but now full expect it to be heaving every time I return. When you do book, ask to be upstairs, as the basement is windowless, and rather cold and bleak.
What to recommend? Well, the Seafood Spaghetti in a Paper Bag is a show-stopper. An enormous plate of steaming, fragrant, garlicky pasta and seafood ceremoniously poured from its paper vessel by your waiter. If you're going for the full retro experience, have the Parma ham and melon to start, and I suggest sticking with the gorgeous pizzas and pastas. All dishes are light on the wallet, so you'll have ample change for a digestif in the charming Victorian pub, The Lamb, next door.