Tucked into a back street off Sanlitun Lu, Bottega’s sunken dining room is striking to say the least. As we descend past the tiled, coral-red pizza oven, we find ourselves beset on all sides by bright lights. Clear glass orbs illuminate from above, and a series of glowing, electric portraits of Italians demonstrating their appreciation for food are doubled across the room by an unbroken row of mirrors. The luminous décor is tasteful and modern: black and white tiles outline a well-appointed bar; steel chairs line wooden bistro tables.
The menu offers an array of classics as well as showcasing the kitchen’s own style, with some dishes that are almost certainly new to the capital. To start we try the arancini (38RMB), cream spinach- stuffed balls of risotto that have been breaded and deep fried, and the frittatina di maccheroni (42RMB), spaghetti twirled around round beef and Béchamel sauce – again breaded and deep fried. The risotto balls hide a glimpse of green with satisfying texture, while the fried spaghetti was less appealing and wanting a stronger beef flavour.
The montanara (48RMB) – a medallion of fried pizza dough topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil – and the caprese salad with fresh burrata cheese (88RMB) prove more exciting. The warm tomato sauce and fresh cheese work well with the chewy, albeit somewhat oily, fried dough. In the caprese, the freshness of the lightly salted burrata, sweet cherry tomatoes and quality olive oil conjure the lingering warmth of an Italian summer evening.
The pizzas speak of generations of experience. In the Neapolitan style, they’re small, served up fast, light on the toppings but packed with flavour. The Bottega (108RMB) is the real standout. A ball of fresh burrata, molten from its two minutes in the wood-fired inferno, spills its creamy filling and is cut by the salty pang of anchovies and sweet cheery tomatoes. The baci roma (89RMB), a bite-sized take on the calzone, is also very good, with mushroom, ham, tomato and cheese enveloped with ribbons of chewy dough.
The salad offerings are equally creative. The Positano (68RMB), with spinach, citrus fruits, grilled chicken, pine nuts and lemon vinaigrette is a tangy break from the carb-loading – we highly recommend it. The pastas are less noteworthy. While they also showcase quality tomato sauces, we find ourselves disappointed by the simplicity of the flavours and portion sizes.
The warm, casual atmosphere and quality Italian dishes, combined with its quiet enclave location off the main Sanlitun drag, are the answer to a long echoed prayer. Excluding some minor growing pains with the service, there are few places like it in the city and even fewer with such proximity to some of Beijing’s best bars and late night haunts. For high quality home-style Italian that won’t break the bank, Bottega’s got you covered.
By Nick Gollner