REVIEW: Café Bellissimo in Colchester
PUBLISHED: 10:43 26 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:43 26 June 2018
Stephanie Mackentyre continues her tour of Essex's finest dining spots at Café Bellissimo in Colchester
The word café can conjure up an image of steaming mugs of tea, plastic chairs and floppy white bread grasping greasy rashers. However the Essex café scene features a raft of rather cool alternatives worth checking out. One such place was recommended to us by an Essex Life reader —Café Bellissimo in Colchester.
Situated on the corner of Wimpole Street and Magdalen Street, at a busy junction, the café certainly is in a prominent location. That also means you need to arrive on foot as there’s very limited parking available on site or in close proximity.
Sicilian owner Lee Pagliarini is responsible for creating all of the food and its preparation. Imagine an Italian Jamie Oliver, very welcoming, relaxed and oh so chatty! The interior is compact with seating for 20 including three bar stools which look out of the front window.
There’s a large counter deli display showing off his freshly-cooked ingredients at the bottom and a row of tempting Sicilian cakes under glass along the top. There are 19 different panini options including spicy beef with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes and basil, plus jacket potatoes and salads, including a Pecorino cheese salad and a vegan roasted vegetable salad.
I decided to try one of the chef’s specials pasta al forno (lasagne to you and me) and a Sicilian Special Panini for my dining guest with a side salad. I was given a potted history of why we call this particular layered pasta dish lasagne and the owner then went on to explain what makes his pasta al forno so special.
“You’re in for a treat!”
I certainly hoped so. His version uses six different types of meat including herby sausage, Palma ham and mincemeat as well as béchamel sauce with white wine, three layers of al dente pasta sheets with cheese, all carefully baked in the oven. The owner was quick to add he couldn’t reveal all of his key ingredients as this recipe is a closely guarded family secret.
The result was indeed delicious and wholesome, although I was envious of my guest’s side salad as my dish sadly didn’t come with any garnish. His panini was served with a small, chopped side salad. The panini itself was also freshly-prepared in front of us with roasted peppers, salami, mozzarella, Palma ham, basil, olive oil and olives.
We chatted so much we realised when we went to pay that the olives never materialised, but it didn’t mar the enjoyment of our lunch.
“Tell me next time – don’t forget the Olives!” the owner joked.
The cakes we left for another day, as tempting as they looked, including cannoli with several different sumptuous fillings such as the traditional chocolate and ricotta cheese.
There were nougat and almond cake slices, lemon cream boats, rocky road slices and even vegan cupcakes! Our lunch was enhanced with a refreshing glass of Sanpellegrino Chinotto on ice – another of Lee’s personal imports.
Follow them on Facebook @CafeBellissimoColchester
Inside the kitchen of Lee Paglianrini
Sicilian-born Lee Pagliarini is the gregarious owner of Bellissimo Café in Colchester.
“Bellissimo means brilliant, lovely, perfect, and that’s how I want to present my food.”
Lee uses fresh, local vegetables and meats and imports olive oil and 35 different varieties of cakes from Sicily plus Disotto’s ice cream from Italy. The combination of these ingredients are what makes Lee’s food stand out, he says.
After 30 years working in London’s Hatton Garden as a diamond setter, he realised his long-held dream to own his own bar restaurant in Tenerife. After four years he returned to the UK and set up home in Colchester.
“I have been cooking since I was five years old. I came to the UK in 1966. England had just won the World Cup and everyone was so happy in London – it was just the happiest place!”
Lee is passionate about educating people to veer away from convenience foods and get back to eating meals without preservatives or anything added. “Some people eat rubbish in my opinion! Here I cook everything myself from scratch.”
Book a table
Cafe Bellisimo,1b Wimpole Road, Colchester, CO1 2BX
Useful to know:
The total bill came to £14 for a single course lunch for two people with drinks. This is an independent review, featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and wine editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.