Having just turned 10, Isola Bella is one of Shanghai’s oldest Italian restaurants. So we took a stroll to the back of Huaihai Lu’s lane 864 to check back up on it and found that, after all these years, it still has 100 percent Italian blood coursing through its veins.
The weighty menu covers everything from prosciutto to panna cotta and all five courses in between. They bring a bread basket and bruschetta just to get you through the first reading. To start, a tuna carpaccio (RMB78) was lightly dressed and let its clean taste do all the talking. The braised beef ravioli (RMB70) in a buttery sauce was similar–effortlessly simple–yet with only one filling it was one-dimensional.
The theme of simplicity continues into the mains. An Italian sausage and polenta dish (RMB120) is reminiscent of a Turkish kofte, featuring generously herbed meat matched well with unadorned polenta. It is, however, far too little for the money and would have benefitted from a third ingredient–rocket or asparagus perhaps.
However, the quattro formaggi pizza (RMB85) was more formidable. It’s not quite the size of Nolita’s, but it vies for top dog status with generous, concentrically layered cheeses and a subtly crisp base.
Desserts are limited to the likes of wholesale import classics such as ice cream served in a coconut shell and sorbet in a lemon. Unwrapped straight from the freezer came our tartifico de classico (RMB38), a sphere of vanilla and chocolate ice cream that was pleasant enough but immediately forgotten.
Service is haphazard, prices feel a little too expensive and the golden private-table mezzanine in the middle of the room is far too Italian chic for its own good. But otherwise, it’s great to see that Isola Bella is still keeping Shanghai up in thoroughbred Italian fare.
What: Isola Bella
Where: 2/F, No. 41, Lane 864 Huaihai Zhong Lu 淮海中路864弄41号2楼