This article first appeared in the August 2013 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.
It was a hot and sultry night in Wakefield when my two companions and I sat down to eat at Felice’s Bella Roma in Northgate. Yes, it was actually hotter here than it was in Rome (I checked!) but no matter – we were hungry and ready for some real Italian cooking.
Now, I have to let you into a secret – I’m something of an Italophile, I love Italy and I love Italian food. Over the last year, Felice’s has become one of my favourite restaurants in Wakefield so I already knew what to expect when I booked my table and I wasn’t to be disappointed. What I didn’t appreciate when I made my reservation was that this was something of an anniversary for the proprietor, it being one year to the day since he signed contracts on his purchase of the business.
From the moment we walked into the restaurant, we were made very welcome by proprietor Felice Di Giorno and his team. As it was a quiet evening, we were shown straight to our table – on busier nights, Fridays and Saturdays in particular, when it is always advisable to book ahead, you may find yourselves in the upstairs bar area while you wait for your table to become free.
Now, called me old-fashioned, but I do like to see a nice tablecloth – it adds a touch of quality in my view and sets the tone of the establishment. First impressions count and Bella Roma gives a very good account of itself indeed, whether you are stealing a glance through the window as you pass by or on entering through the front door to sample some of the delights on the menu.
Some readers may have encountered Felice before – as he has worked at Renaldi’s in Sandal in the past, becoming the manager there, before deciding to set up on his own. Originally from Scalea in Calabria, Southern Italy, Felice moved to England in 1998 at the behest of the original owners of Rinaldi’s – two Italian brothers from his own village in Italy. Felice later set up his own restaurant, Gavi, in Tingley but was enticed to return to Rinaldi’s as manager when the Sandal restaurant changed hands in 2010. However, in June 2012, the opportunity arose for Felice to purchase the Bella Roma business and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now rebranded as Felice’s Bella Roma, with a team of 10 to 15 full-time and part-time staff, the restaurant offers an extensive menu of pasta, pizza, meat and fish dishes, with a constantly changing specials board. The menu has recently been completely overhauled and contains a good selection of vegetarian options. There is a fixed price lunch menu with one course for just £6.95 and two courses for only £9.95, and an early bird evening menu (available between 5.30 and 6.30 pm) offering two and three course meals for a highly competitive £10.95 and £13.95. A very drinkable house wine (Sangiovese in our case) is £13.95 for a bottle and then there is a rising scale that ascends all the way up to a Barolo Classico (not sampled) at £31.95. If you prefer something with a bit of sparkle, there’s Prosecco at £20.95 a bottle, and, if you want to push the boat out for a celebration, you might want to try the Bollinger Champagne and or Veuve Clicquot at £49.95 a bottle (alas, also not sampled on this occasion!).
Apart from some special dishes that require a degree of pre-preparation, meals are freshly prepared to order in the kitchen and sourced from suppliers in Yorkshire and, of course, Italy with ingredients coming from specialist Italian importers for that authentic Italian flavour.
My companions and I dined from the à la carte menu and started with a focaccia pomodoro, a thin pizza-based appetizer dish covered in tomato, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. We then moved on to sample starters of Caprese salad (mozzarella cheese, with fresh tomatoes and basil oil), garlic mushrooms in a cream sauce, and, from the specials board – White Bait with a salad accompaniment. Starters are priced from £5.45 to £7.95. For our main course, I had the Crespelle Ricotta e Spinaci, spinach and ricotta cheese wrapped in a pancake and baked in a tomato and cream sauce with mozzarella cheese. My companions had a Pennette Salmone e Asparagi (pasta with fresh salmon, asparagus and a touch of tomato) and, from the specials board, a Wild Mushroom Ravioli. Many of the pasta dishes on the menu can be prepared with gluten free pasta on request. There’s a good selection of pasta and pizza dishes to choose from varying in price from £7.95 to £10.95 with meat dishes running from £12.95 up to £29.95 for the prime Yorkshire 20oz Rib Eye Steak.
If you have a sweet tooth, no meal is complete without dessert, and somehow we all managed to squeeze in a pudding (all priced at £4.95). It’s a tough life being a restaurant reviewer!
I can thoroughly recommend the Zuppa Inglese – homemade Italian trifle (and not, as a literal translation might suggest, English soup!). One of my party had the Crema Bruciata (Crème brûlée), while the third had a selection of ice creams. Coffee brought this perfect meal to a close.
If you have a special dietary need, do contact the restaurant to discuss. As already mentioned, many of the pasta dishes can be provided gluten free and the restaurant is developing a special gluten-free menu. Some thought is also being given to extending even further the number of vegetarian options available.
While taking some photographs to illustrate this article, I fell into conversation with a chap at an adjacent table who was visiting the area on business. He praised the restaurant and said that, in Bella Roma, Wakefield had something to be proud of.
Felice tells me that it has always been his dream to run his own restaurant and it is important to him that he provides quality food with a friendly service. Now married with an English wife and with two children, Felice is proud of his Italian heritage and wants to ensure his customers sample something that is authentically Italian. Judging by my own experiences of dining here and the complimentary comments I’ve heard from others, I’d say that Felice’s Bella Roma is definitely a dream come true.
63 Northgate, Wakefield, WF1 3BP