A searing Saturday afternoon with traffic gridlocked as portions of the highway underwent repairs was probably not the ideal time for making the trip from Makati to Cubao for an early dinner at Bellini’s. You could say that it was a decision rooted in silliness. But if we behaved rationally at all times, life would not be as much fun. Less stressful, perhaps, but not nearly as much fun.
We take a proprietary interest in Bellini’s, having been among its original patrons. As Mr. Bellini reminded us, Today was the first paper to write about the restaurant (You can read the review, framed on his wall). We have seen it grow from a bare room with plastic tables and chairs into a cozy destination restaurant frequented by celebrities (Some of them have their names on the chairs).
And we can compute the rise of the cost of the living by the prices on the menu. In 2001 we had our birthday dinner there with 12 people, and the bill came to Php2500—just 33 percent more than what dinner for two cost last Saturday. In the case of Bellini’s we are happy to pay, because we can see where the money goes.
The quality of the food has been consistently high: pastas, pizzas, entrees, and the best orange cake in the city. If the large selection boggles you, go for the appetizer buffet and ask them to prepare the spaghetti aglio olio with seafood, which is not on the menu. It’s so rich and flavorful, your taste buds will thank you.
And the service has improved since its clunky beginnings. Mr. Bellini pointed out that the staff are all regular employees, not temps, and they know the menu in detail. We believe him because the waiters have been there long enough to pick up the rudiments of Italian so they can speak Tagliano (Tagalog-Italiano).
The wine selection is quite impressive—in the inner room are bottles of vintage barolo and chianti.
Some years ago we saw a Tagalog movie set in Bellini’s and were slightly offended that “our” place had gone public. Still, that exposure has probably been thousands of times more useful to the business than our infrequent patronage (It’s so faaaar). Mr. Bellini says one of their regular diners is the President of the Philippines, and P-Noy’s favorite dishes are spaghetti bolognese, Parma ham and arugula pizza, and scallopine marsala.
Historical sidebar: Mr. Bellini met his wife Luisa at Malacanang Palace in 1986, when she was working for P-Noy’s mother, President Cory Aquino, and he was covering the Edsa Revolution for his paper in Italy. (Roberto Bellini was a photojournalist, though he is sometimes confused with Roberto Benigni the Italian comedian.) “In 20 minutes I knew I wanted to marry her!” he declared. “So I asked her and she called me sira-ulo.”
She agreed eventually, and in 1999 Bellini returned to the Philippines for good. He looked for a spot in which to set up an Italian restaurant, and found the space at Marikina Shoe Expo on Aurora Boulevard in Cubao. The rent was Php100 a day. “One room became two rooms and then three…have you seen the new rooms?” he demanded.
Of course we were familiar with the inner dining area featuring The Mural of the Two Colosseums, Rome and Araneta. One of the charms of Bellini’s restaurant is its distinctive interior decor. Between the indescribable interior design and the effusive proprietor, the place positively radiates character.
Behold the Fontana di Trevi, with Anita Ekberg splashing about. (Where’s the kitten on her head?) There’s a branch of Bellini’s in Marikina, with an upstairs room that can accommodate 100 diners.
Whenever we go to Bellini’s we have to steel ourselves for Mr. Bellini’s expressive manner, but last Saturday he was reflective. “I opened this restaurant 15 years ago last March 4,” he said. “Matanda na ako, I am 74.”
“You don’t look a day older than 64,” we told him.
“I will put your name on a chair,” he announced.
When you go to Bellini’s, could you confirm if said name plate exists?