Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Bel Green Magdalen Road

After hearing all sorts of positive things about Magdalen Rd café and restaurant Bel Green, I was keen to visit for at least a small spot of lunch. Quirky, vintage and intimate. I personally couldn't think of three more enticing adjectives to describe an eatery. After some online research - de rigueur - I was even more excited to discover that they were holding pizza nights to eat in or take away every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Boasting a unique sourdough recipe for their thin crust pizza bases as well as an authentic stone based pizza oven, you are hard pressed to find such an independent Italian offering anywhere else in Exeter.

Having been past a few times in a car, the retro styling of the decor seen through the window, was impressive and beckoning. Situated in the Magdalen Rd, it is also nicely tucked out of the way of the high street; a further plus point. JC had suggested we go out to dinner the coming Saturday night and as often is the case, I stomped in with my size 9s (well, size 6s) with a suggestion for the destination. Bel Green it was to be. The minute you mention pizza as a meal option in our house, you will notice a lot of nodding and smiling in response. We rarely say no to pizza. The tiny café space makes for a warm and cosy evening atmosphere. Tables and chairs are simple, painted, wooden, farmhouse in style, topped with vintage bottles and jars holding fresh flowers. There are only roughly half a dozen tables in the split level room to seat a total of 25 people. This in itself is a big selling point in my view. The combined feeling of exclusivity and homeliness is a lovely one, and it feels more like a residential supper club than a restaurant. With Exeter being home to more than enough restaurant chains, this sort of environment is a welcome addition to the city mix.

Chef Isabel Davies has worked previously at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen in London and the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, amongst other notable locations, but if there is one thing I can fully understand it's the need for independence and a free creative reign. The simple, but spot on Italian evening menu at Bel Green lets the ingredients do their thing. We were quickly and efficiently seated, with reference made to the blackboards that contain the evening menu. We didn't fancy a starter, but if you were peckish you could start with Nocellara olives, a rocket and parmesan salad or a Tuscan salami plate with garlic flat bread and olives for example. We went straight for the big guns - the homemade (of course!), thin crust, proper job pizzas. JC opted for the Prosciutto, rocket, mozzarella, tomato and parmesan, whilst I had the Pancetta, gorgonzola, red onion, rosemary, tomato and mozzarella. These pizza titles, whilst a bit wordy, encompass every ingredient, bar the base, so you know exactly what you are getting. The quality of ingredients is top notch. My prosciutto was fatty and chunky with a detectable cured flavour, working in conjunction with the tangy, creamy gorgonzola beautifully. I would say that this was like no pizza topping I've had in a very long time, if ever. It screamed authenticity and each element played a recognisable role. I managed to snaffle a piece of JC's pancetta number too, which was also a showcase of the very best of ingredients. Pancetta as a pizza topping doesn't generally get a chance to shine, but here it most certainly did.

The drinks menu is fairly extensive with a selection of non-alcoholic beverages including the Luscombe Hot Ginger Beer chosen by JC. A choice of five white and five red wines are also available as well as Prosecco and Peroni for those who fancy some bubbles. I went for a glass of the Valpolicella Torre del Falasco (2010) in keeping with the Italian theme, although there was a choice of Italian, French and Spanish wines on the board. The wines are a takeaway option, as are the pizzas, so if you didn't fancy eating in, you can enjoy a very stylish night at home with no cooking fuss. I hadn't thought that a dessert was going to be possible after the pizza, but I changed my mind at the last minute. I was caught up in this wonderful retro, warm glow and it wasn't just my glass of red wine. I seriously didn't want the meal to end. Having not had affogato for the best part of 15 years, I was feeling particularly extravagant and decided to end the meal in style. The gleaming, red Elektra coffee machine sitting on the counter, may have had something to do with my decision. It was once again, simple and fabulous. JC went for the chocolate brownie which was served with vanilla ice cream and was, yet another winner.

Bel Green essentially restores your faith in Italian cuisine, just in case you had started to take for granted this most wonderful of international gastronomic gifts. Most of us would say that pizza + vanilla ice cream + black coffee + red wine would equate to a fairly basic restaurant meal and ordinarily we would be right. The quality of each of these well-loved Italian classics is where it all turns around. Bel Green is producing taste-bud tingling Italian food just 10 minutes from the main shopping centre of Exeter and I for one will be making this my number one pizza venue from here on in.

Pizza evenings are from 6-9.30pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, although they are currently closed and will reopen on 23rd August 2012. Breakfast , lunch and Sunday brunch are also on offer. Check on their website for opening times.