Published in The GUIDON, November 2009
bellissimo (Italian) adj. beautiful; pleasing the senses or the mind aesthetically
NOT MANY people would want to leave behind a flashy lifestyle as a paparazzo in one of the world’s most beautiful countries to set up an Italian restaurant in Metro Manila. A young Italian man named Roberto Bellini, however, possessed the sheer boldness and eccentricity to do so.
What spurred him to stow away his camera and don oven mitts was his affection for a native Filipina. He met Maria Luisa who was working in the Malacañang Palace while covering the EDSA revolution for his hometown’s newspaper. He then proposed that same day. Driven by his one true love and a desire to bring a slice of Italy to Filipinos, Bellini’s is born.
Bellini’s is a fragment of authentic Italian culture hidden in Cubao Expo. Hand-painted murals of Italy’s picturesque cities cover the walls and ceilings. “If Michelangelo can [do] this, even I want to [do] it,” Roberto says, referring to his attempt of imitating the Renaissance artist’s famed ceiling paintings. Newspaper clippings and photos of famous celebrities he once took are hung on walls, including Madonna and Luciano Pavarotti.
Customers from every part of the city are treated to dishes always prepared fresh, complemented with warm bread sticks and shotglasses of sweet red wine. In between ravioli with tinapa and seafood pizza, Roberto candidly initiates friendly chats. Applying his philosophy that most people like what is familiar and comfortable in the restaurant, the place is known for making people feel truly at home. Bellini’s also boasts of having concocted 365 sauces. “We think of what we can invent, what we can do for the people who do not want to find the same [menu] every day,” he smiles proudly.
A stout man once ordered five different pasta dishes alone, confessing that he hasn’t found pasta this sumptuous anywhere else. Ambassadors, politicians, celebrities, and journalists have also discovered Cubao’s hidden secret.
Ten years in running, Bellini’s remains one of Manila’s hidden culinary treasures. The Bellini couple together has created their own cultural masterpiece in this secluded corner of the world. From the diverse pasta choices to servers who can speak Italian, each customer is in for an appetizing adventure, all thanks to a former paparazzo-turned-culinary celebrity and his bizarre dream.