When we heard that Bottega
, Beijing’s hands-down best slicemonger was on the move we were more than a little concerned. But a new day has broken, Bottega has somehow evolved into something more marvellous than we deserve, and pizza, bless its purity, is eternal.
Bottega Jinshang does, however, lie the shadow of a hospital. No getting around that. But the Jinshang complex in the oft-overlooked Xinyuanli neighbourhood – a curious one – is proving fertile ground for recently displaced restaurateurs, catering to a motley crew of neighbouring diplomats and the injured and poorly.
Striding past an embarrassment of al fresco seating, we’re greeted by Bottega’s founding father and spiritual leader Daniele Salvo, who chaperones us like Morgan Freeman’s God through the restaurant; an Italian dreamscape that unfolds before us like some impossibly customised, impossibly dolce afterlife.
We take a seat on a comfortable brown leather bench in the main dining area and continue soaking in the perfection. It’s all distinctly 'Bottega': the endearing family portraits that watched over the Sanlitun digs have been updated, the menu is familiar but plays even longer. Perhaps the most important addition to the experience is the new pizza oven – an enormous wood-fired beauty shipped in from Italy over the course of six weeks. Visible from most tables; this plus-sized glamour is a focal point and a conversation starter.
We could go on about the infinity mirroring in the bathrooms and the gorgeous light fixtures throughout the venue, but we need to talk about the food. Strictly Neapolitan-style pizzas are the focus of the menu, and, indeed, the human experience. The signature Bottega pizza is a statement pie, and features a hefty burrata at the centrepoint that oozes when pierced over accompanying anchovies and sweet cherry tomatoes. The Diavolo, a house favourite, is a nod to simplicity, its generous portion of salame napoli doing the talking in a brilliantly restrained pizza.
Though undoubtedly pizza-centric, Bottega’s menu sees triumphs consistently throughout, and its concise offering of pastas is especially worth stretching stomachs for. The Bucatini Amatriciana is as saucy a minx as they come, laced with a generous assignment of cheese and crispy guanciale. But for ours, the richness of the six-hour-cooked beef ragu rigatoni is intoxicating and adds a new dimension to the Bottega experience.
It’s a rare and special moment when the sequel eclipses its original, particularly when the original was as good as it was. Salvo and his team are on to something here and they know it; their confidence and enthusiasm, palpable from kitchen to floor staff, takes the ritual of dinner to utterly uplifting heights. Though only having opened a few weeks ago, Bottega’s evening service is packed, but an indoor capacity of 110 ensures that there’s never a wait time. That the diner is invited into the cooking process via a thrilling open-plan kitchen only builds a stronger connection, and a mutual trust between the customer, their meal and the effortlessly charming team. Bravo.
By Frank Sweet