I was sitting at my friend's kitchen table just outside Westport in Co. Mayo. Vincent was getting cross with his dial-up connection to the internet. 'God, it's slow, it's painfully slow.' After forty minutes of trying to book a flight online he gave up. 'I swear it would be quicker to walk there' he sighed, shutting down the computer. 'Vincent', I said, 'I have great news for you about broadband.' 'Really?' he looked interested, 'what?' I told him what I'd read in The New York Times. 'The good news is that in India they now have over 85% coverage in broadband, and by spring of next year the whole sub-continent will have it. Isn't that great?'
'You mean that even though some of them don't have enough to eat, they'll still be able to get broadband?' 'Absolutely. Good, isn't it?' Funnily enough, the idea that all of those Indians could get broadband didn't make him happy at all. Instead of being pleased for them he kept shouting 'Well why can't we get it here?' I was able to reassure him it wasn't just Westport where you couldn't get it. I can't get it in Wicklow either, and I know people in Dublin 4 who can't get it. In fact, most of Ireland can't get it, so it's not just Vincent. I tried to cheer him up by telling him that when I was in Estonia a couple of months ago they had broadband just about everywhere. In the cafés, restaurants, hotels, streets, shops, parks and public toilets, you could get wireless broadband. 'Anyway, there are plans to have it all over Ireland by 2030, you just need to wait a bit', I said.
We did have a plan to go to Cleggan to eat, but the slow internet connection meant that in the end we didn't have time for the hour or so drive, and so instead we went into Westport for dinner. There were six of us, Vincent and Maribel, Tom who was over from France, Mariana from London, my son Rocco and me. Our destination was a small Italian restaurant called 'La Bella Vita', which translates as 'The Beautiful Life', not entirely inappropriate for Westport.
La Bella Vita is small and dainty. Just seven tables downstairs and three upstairs. You get the impression that you're in someone's house, it's all so intimate. Simple tables and chairs, unpretentious décor, basic tableware and napery make it more of a trattoria than a restaurant and the prices confirm that impression. It's so nice to look down a wine list that starts at €16.50 and goes up to less than €30 for the majority of the wines. There's a good Amarone and Barolo if you want to push the boat out, but you'll find plenty of decent wines clustered around the €20 mark, which after Dublin lists looks positively cheap. We started with a good Prosecco at €25 and then we had a bottle of the Salice Salentino red from Candida at €20.
The menu is quite long and varied. There are ten antipasti, which are starters, and they included a couple of bruschettas, a couple of salads, prawns, mussels and smoked salmon. All of these are priced under €10, except for the antipasto 'Bella Vita', which is €14.50. Then there are seventeen pastas to choose from, which can be had as a main course Irish-style, or as a first course Italian-style. As main courses they are mostly around €12 and as first course portions they're around €6. There are nine main courses on offer, including steaks, veal, chicken, prawns and fish. Only the fish of day costs over €20, chicken dishes are €14.50, veal dishes are €18.50.
Because we were six, we were able to eat a good mix of the menu, we started with a pesto linguini, a soup, a plate of mussels Marinara - which is a wine, garlic, parsley and tomato sauce - and the Bella Vita antipasto. I tasted Vincent's linguini with pesto which I liked and Rocco's Bella Vita starter was exceptional. All manner of seafood was on his plate - mussels, calamari, big fresh prawns and two King prawns and smoked salmon. Tom's mussels looked good from across the table and the soup was good. I had one of the day's specials, which was gnocchi Sorrentina, which was with a rich creamy sauce.
For the next course our choices were Panzarotti, which is mushroom parcels in a cream and ham sauce, a saltimbocca alla Romana and two of us chose the special of lemon sole. These were large and generous portions, Tom really enjoyed the Panzarotti, both Vincent and Rocco were very enthusiastic about the lemon sole and I thought the saltimbocca was pretty good too.
After all of this food there was no hope of downing any desserts, so we had a few espressos instead to end the meal, which brought the bill for the six of us up to €188, to which we added 10%. I thought that the food in La Bella Vita was as good as any I've had in the capital - it was carefully made and very reasonably priced. All through the meal we'd also had excellent service, so all in all I was well pleased by La Bella Vita, as were we all at the table.
|(c) Paolo Tullio, 2004|