I Belli is back with Italian Renaissance
I Belli is back with
We have just received the following review and great pictures from Tom Roche of Living Magazine and would like to share them with our readers.
Sad news for fans of Italian cooking: I Belli has closed. But here’s the good news: The best Italian restaurant in North Cyprus has re-opened, bigger and better than ever.
Those who remember the homely establishment in Kyrenia’s old Turkish quarter may be taken aback by the size and splendour of the new I Belli. It is just a quarter of a mile away from its former home, but in every other way, it’s a big move.
High ceilings, plate glass and shiny surfaces mark the cavernous new surroundings, but chef Emeliano Luggo and his wife Caterina Rondoni remain at the centre of events. For I Belli, read ebullient, old-school Italian hospitality, as she tours the tables and he dashes out from the kitchen to see if everything meets with customers’ approval.
They are keen to stress that their essential concept remains the same; truly Italian food, expertly cooked and served with panache. It’s a contemporary approach to the classical flavour of their homeland, with an emphasis on simple, quality ingredients and home- made breads and pasta.
From their previous location, they have brought with them another delightful Italian touch. The modern surroundings are softened by colourful handmade ceramics from the famous producers Vietri. Caterina designs everything, from the simplest serving dish to a giant tiled picture which adorns the balcony. Customers may also purchase items.
Upstairs there’s a new idea, the Lemon Room which seats up to 14, is available for private hire, although in some ways, it seems a shame to cut oneself off from the lively atmosphere of the main restaurant. The downstairs seating area has sliding doors which reveal extra space to the rear, to be opened on extra busy occasions or to accommodate occasional live music evenings.
And there’s something else that I Belli has managed to bring to this bigger table, its family-friendly atmosphere, exemplified by Emeliano and Caterina’s three-year-old son, Piergiulio, a curly-haired bambino who dashes between lunchtime diners dispensing his own brand of Italian charm.
Emeliano says: “He’s like a baby sitter, we look after the adults and he’s interested in the kids. He looks after all the young customers. It’s an investment, they are the future.”
But above all, there’s one ingredient which remains I Belli’s biggest draw, and that is the sheer quality of its cooking. Whether you order a simple pizza, pasta or risotto or a regional speciality, you are guaranteed a treat. If you want fine dining, live lobsters from the tank are on your plate within minutes, or you could try Coniglio Al Tegamino, slow cooked rabbit with polenta, or a classic Ossobuco Alla Milanese. Throughout the year, the restaurant offers seasonal specialities.
Emeliano is from Napoli and jokes that he was weaned on homemade pizza. He has recruited pizza chef Tommaso to help him cope with the orders for this all-time favourite, which comes as an aroma-laden lightweight disc of pastry topped with the freshest ingredients. You can even have a black pizza!
He explains: “There’s a fashion for black food in Italy right now, some things flavoured with natural charcoal, for example. We decided to do this pasta or pizza with squid ink, so the pizza has a complementary seafood topping. Maybe some customers won’t get it, but if they want, they can order.”
Caterina added: “We like to try different things. We have black spaghetti and cannelloni but, some people here, they are not ready for something so different, but if you like anything we do, you can always ask and if it is in season, we will do it for you.”
The original I Belli was more country-style but the couple are no strangers to big city restaurants.Caterina comes from a large family in Sardinia, where an aunt runs a celebrated hotel in the town of Orosei. She has also worked in an uncle’s restaurants in the USA. Emeliano has been working in Italian kitchens since he was 14 and has taken his skills to top restaurants and hotels in Spain, Germany, Egypt, London and Istanbul.
Emeliano said: “When we first opened I Belli, it was a concept we always wanted to develop, to start from a small restaurant then go to a bigger place eventually, you move up. This is still the beginning and we have already changed many things in the first month. We need more staff for example.
“People liked us for our cosy ambiance but they will see that also in this place. We didn’t use an architect, everything you see here from the sofa and chairs, we chose it.
“We know what our customers want. I Belli is an Italian restaurant that you find in Italy, not the plastic restaurants around the world, it’s simple.”
They remain a stylish pair despite the demands of running a top-class restaurant and bringing up two young children – Piergiulio and his baby brother Adriano, now one.
It’s hard, they admit, to balance the demands of their life with the Italian reputation for romance. “On our anniversary, he didn’t do anything!” Caterina says, mockingly. “Once every two or three years he might do something special … well, there was a time a few months ago, he did something nice. He has a very good heart.
“Our life now with the restaurant is very difficult. I am here for lunch, then go home but there is no proper rest before I’m back here for dinner. Maybe before, we had no kids … life is not so romantic now, but it is very good.
“Next week is my birthday. I don’t want anything difficult. I just want to stay at home and have a nice nap, maybe a fish dinner with champagne.”
“I have already bought the fish and the champagne is in the fridge, but I’m not romantic? She has very high standards!” counters Emeliano.
I Bellı, İskenderun Cad. No: 15
(Next to Tango to Buddha)
0533 865 4499 0548 865 4499