Rather like England’s New Forest, which received that name almost 1,000 years ago, Venice is full of things labeled novo, whose novelty is relative to the age of the city. The most important of these is the Strada Nova (New Street) which since its completion in 1871 has been the main thoroughfare from Venezia Santa Lucia train station (construction began in 1861) to the Rialto area.
Appropriately for a maritime city, the foot traffic on the Strada Nova comes in waves as tourists exit from the trains arriving at the station, and changes direction in the evening as the visitors ebb away.
Due to its location and length, the Strada Nova has become the main commercial street of the city where you can buy anything from carnival masks and fairy-lit plastic gondolas—most of these are solar powered now—to sim cards and McDonald’s hamburgers. The street has plenty of fast food to offer the weary traveller but this is mostly generic. However, recently a restaurant has opened there which is part of an interesting trend for quality, Venetian-run enterprises offering one-off experiences.
Bella & Brava (which means beautiful and good) can only be described as a boutique pizzeria. It offers a limited number of pizzas—there are only six on the menu—produced with four principles in mind: quality ingredients, healthy-eating, slow leavened bases, and sustainability. These are served to you in trendy surroundings, where you can eat in, or take the pizzas away in a very posh box indeed.
The box, comes with a sort of user manual wrapped around it, which explains in great detail the philosophy of the restaurant as well as ingredient information for your particular pizza. The cardboard used to to make the box is recyclable and the paper for the user manual is printed on paper made from ‘surplus algae harvested in the Venetian lagoon’—how’s that for sustainability beginning at home?
The pizzas themselves are nice, and the wholemeal taste to the base makes them feel worthy of the term ‘healthy eating’ even if I can’t quite believe that a pizza can be as healthy as all that. The toppings are beautifully arranged so that each circle of goodness looks beautiful (bella) as well as being—allegedly—good for you (brava). Do you see what they did there?
Bella & Brava are clearly attempting to gentrify the pizza in a country where its considered (by Italians at least) as street food or a cheap eat. And here lies a problem. Most Italians would balk at the prices charged here—the average is about 9 euros with the premium Venexiana pizza at 14,90 euros. In most pizzerias in Italy you’d pay about 7-8 euros. This is the sort of restaurant that would go down very well in London, but whether they can convince Italians that this kind of premium pizza is worth it remains to be seen.
Much as I loved the packaging, I couldn’t help wondering if it was worth it and if the money could have been better spent on lowering prices.
When I was there, mid-afternoon on Easter Monday, it was empty until a group of Spanish wandering minstrels turned up and gave the staff a song while waiting for their pizza. I kid you not.
In a city where it’s very easy to pay through the nose for bad food and the full-on tourist-trap experience, I really like what Bella & Brava is trying to do. The interior of the shop and the packaging really appealed to my love of beautiful things, and as I said, the pizza was good—not the best I’ve ever tasted but good. Overall there is a sense of sincerity and passion that I hope will lead to success. Next time you’re passing, pop in, try one and decide for yourself.
Bella & Brava
Cannaregio 4383, Venice