Our wine columnist Andy Clarke is all about the ladies this month…
On moving back West, one of the things I was keen to do was to get my bearings in relation to eating out. I was blessed with a lot of great locals when I lived in London, so, for me, it was important that I quickly established where’s good in Bristol. Even before moving back here I always wanted to try the critically acclaimed Flinty Red, but unfortunately I didn’t get to it before it closed. But when a good friend of mine suggested trying this new place called Bellita that had risen up in its place, I couldn’t refuse.
Attempting to get my head around the Bristol scene, I learnt that the owners are also the team behind the fabulous Bell’s Diner, which opened in 2013, and that when the opportunity came up to be part of the newly re-invigorated Whiteladies fringe too, they had to take it.
“The time felt right to spread our wings a bit and take on a new venture,” co-owner Kate Hawkings told me. She used to work with the other Bellita owner, Connie, on Whiteladies 25 years ago (when they were but kids – obvs). “It’s lovely being back in this part of town, as it’s becoming a real hub of great eating, and we’re really pleased to be part of it.”
I instantly fell in love with the menu when I first visited: simple, non-fussy little plates with a big serving of originality. The jamon Iberico croquetas are the best in town, and the gem salad with Caesar dressing is something else. The courgette, feta and mint fritters were also an amazing discovery.
One of the many things that I love about Bellita – besides the food and friendly, casual atmosphere – is it’s wine list. As we sat there looking over the possibilities, Kate came over to help us choose from the magnificent selection. On this quite unique wine list she has selected interesting varieties, which are all made by female winemakers. Featuring vinos from all over the world, this list is a real showcase of fab, food-friendly sips.
A great all-rounder on Kate’s list is made in the heart of the Wrington Vale in Somerset, and boasts a Bristolian postcode. It’s Dunleavy Rosé 2015, which is also available to buy in independent wine merchants and directly from the vineyard itself. Hurrah! It’s made by Ingrid Bates and Stephen Dunleavy from vines planted in 2008, and the 2015 vintage is their finest to date.
Vibrant cherry flavours and a dusting of sherbet accompany tangy wild strawberries in the glass. Although great with all those small plates (this pink is not just for summer), its ultimate match has to be chef Joe Harvey’s pork ragu with fennel and ricotta gnocchi.
You’ll have to get pretty lucky to try this dish at Bellita – it only occasionally pops up on the chalkboards. Luckily, though, I managed to convince Joe to share his recipe so you can make it at home any time. Phew.
I’ll be honest, I thought this would be a red wine kind of dish, but it turns out that it loves this rosé – and a good old white, for that matter, particularly Chenin Blanc.
I’m a fan of South African Chenin, but guilty of ignoring the much-maligned Vouvray from France’s Loire Valley, which is made from the same grape. The perfect choice for this ragu is Vouray Silex Vigneau Chevreau 2015, which is available from Corks of Cotham and Corks of North Street. (FYI, a new branch of Corks will be opening soon in a shipping container! Corks at Cargo will be appearing on the Wapping Wharf development on Bristol’s Harbourside in the next few weeks.)
Now, it’s easy to associate Vouvray with the cheaper, slightly sweeter examples that floated around in years gone by, but put any preconceptions on hold. This particular biodynamic wine is made using older vines from various vineyards. Aged for two months in oak and then in stainless steel, it’s far from oaky but has an incredible texture that works so well with the pork ragu. Its apple-sweet tang is great with the fennel and the lift at the end from the wine’s subtle acidity really picks up on the ricotta gnocchi.
At this point I have to give a huge shout out to head chef Joe Harvey, who created this stunning dish. Coming from Italian stock, his skill in food and wine comes as second nature. He also has a few successful Bristol restaurants on his CV – think Riverstation, Papadeli and Manna, as well as a stint at Bell’s, of course. Joe’s grandfather was even the head chef at the first Berni Inn, at the Llandogger Trow on King Street. So food is truly in the family’s blood!
Berni Inns aside, thank goodness he’s got Bellita in his grips. His passion and ingenious palate gives me yet another reason to be so very pleased to call Bristol my home. The team have created a proper little culinary oasis on Cotham Hill, and have put as much effort into their niche wine list as their crazy-good food.
PORK AND FENNEL SEED RAGU WITH RICOTTA GNOCCHI AND PARMESAN
By Joe Harvey
For the ragu:
glug of olive oil
500g pork belly, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp rosemary, chopped
1 tsp thyme, chopped
1 tsp of whole fennel seeds
1 star anise
pinch of chilli flakes
200ml white wine
400g chopped tomatoes
200ml pork stock
1 bay leaf
For the gnocchi:
2 egg yolks
40g grated Parmesan
pinch of nutmeg
100g ‘00’ flour
semolina, for dusting
– First, make the ragu. Heat a large casserole pan over a medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and diced pork belly and cook until the pork is caramelised and coloured all over (depending on the size of your pan, you may have to do this in smaller batches so that your meat doesn’t stew). Once this is achieved, remove the pork with a slotted spoon and set aside.
– Drain any excess fat from the casserole and add the pancetta to the pan (we use our house-cured fennel pancetta, but any shop-bought pancetta will do). Cook the pancetta until it is crispy and all the fat has been rendered.
– Next, reduce the heat of the casserole and add the onions, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary, thyme, fennel seed, star anise and chilli flakes. Stir and fry for 5-10 minutes until softened and ever so slightly caramelised.
– Return the pork belly to the casserole and combine. Pour in the white wine and boil for 1 minute.
– Next, add the chopped tomatoes, pork stock, bay leaf and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Once the ragu has started to boil, cover with a lid and cook slowly on a low heat for 3 hours.
– Now make the gnocchi. Strain the ricotta in a sieve or through a cloth, and place it in a bowl with the egg yolks, Parmesan and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper and combine, gradually adding the flour.
– Dust a surface with the semolina and roll the gnocchi dough out into sausages – aim for the diameter of your thumb. Cut the gnocchi into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
– Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and add the gnocchi. They are cooked when they rise to the surface.
– Add the gnocchi straight into the pork ragu, and serve (we recommend running a whisk through the ragu first to break up the pork belly, but if you prefer bigger chunks of meat then just serve as it is). We garnish ours with dehydrated cherry tomatoes, crispy fried sage and grated Parmesan.