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March 1, 2012

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Scouring the city for great Italian food

THERE'S no doubt that Italian cuisine is one of the best and well known all over the world. Because of its rich flavors and simplicity, the Italian food can satisfy even people with the most difficult tastes. Pizza and pasta are universally known, but there's a lot more to Italian cooking than these popular foods.

The secret that makes Italian cooking so special is nothing but its extreme simplicity with many dishes made from four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely on quality ingredients rather than the complexity of preparation. That makes the difference.

Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, flours, vegetables, meat and fish - all of these elements should be of great quality. Moreover, Italian cuisine is not oily or greasy. The recipes are really "homemade" - most of the time they have been created by a grandmother more than a five-star chef.

Italian cooking does not use so many spices or sauces as it relies more on the real taste of the ingredients. Everything is usually accompanied by a good wine, which Italy has a great number to choose from.

In Shanghai, Italian food definitely has a loyal following - and not just Italians. There are many good Italian eateries. Many opened many years ago, others have closed and still others are new.

This week Shanghai Daily selects three Italian restaurants in the city, each of which tries to serve customers the very best Italian food. Although the three restaurants feature similar menus and importing ingredients from Italy, they are rather different. All are highly recommended.

That's Amore

Ambience: It is a sophisticated restaurant. The place is not too big or too small and every detail is very treated. The owner did the decorating. Once you get in, you can see a beautiful and big open kitchen with both Italian and Chinese chefs. That's Amore is like a bistro in that there's no real menu, just some blackboards with the daily dishes written in chalk. They also have a big terrace when the weather improves. It's nice for a typical Italian aperitivo, a pre-meal alcoholic drink designed to stimulate the appetite.

Who to invite: Friends or girlfriend/boyfriend. That's Amore is a really nice place to have a good dinner with your partner, but also works well with a group of friends.

Pros: The menu can change every week as the owner wants to guarantee fresh products. That's Amore has its own bakery. All bread and desserts are made with imported flour. Order a coffee after the meal and they will offer you some tasty biscuits and meringues.

Cons: Although the place is beautiful and each detail is very treated, the restaurant is kind of hidden on the 5th floor of a building on Taikang Road, making it tricky to find.

Recommended: The fish. It is imported from Europe. The desserts are also very good. They are made by the in-house bakery and they taste delicious.

Don't order: If the owner doesn't recommend it, don't take it as it's not fresh.

Drinks: Soft drinks, Italian and New Zealand wines

Cost: 500 yuan

What else: On Saturday and Sunday That's Amore offers a brunch. In warmer weather they have a barbecue on the terrace with a good view of Tian Zi Fang.

Address: Rm 511, Bldg 1, 200 Taikang Rd (near Ruijin Rd)

Tel: 6472-0925


Ambience: Nene is an open kitchen more than a restaurant. At first sight it looks like a cantina, but it feels like home once inside. It's small but includes an open bar. It's certainly a very simple space but you can eat very well here. Many Italians love Nene.

Who to invite: Friends. This place is the right choice to have both a quick but tasty meal. It's not the place for a big occasion and is excellent for a great lunch.

Pros: Nene's concept is to bring something new to Shanghai. This restaurant wants to offer new dishes and new flavors, typical of southern Italy. There are southern Italian wines. The focaccia bread and pizza are made with organic flours.

Cons: The place is very small and has few seats. Even the equipment is limited because of the small place. It opened in November and they don't accept credit cards yet. Make sure to have cash with you.

Recommended: The orecchiette pasta is worth a try. It's a typical dish from Puglia in the south of Italy. The pizza is also quite good.

Don't order: Avoid the salads, they are nothing special and there are main courses that are better. If you are on diet, don't go.

Drinks: Soft drinks and southern Italian wines

Cost: 300-600 yuan

What else: Nene serves pizza al taglio, or pizza by the slice.

Address: Rm 106, 47 Yongfu Rd (near Fuxing Rd)

Tel: 6418-5055

Bella Napoli

Ambience: Bella Napoli is in the middle of the former French concession, so it's very easy to find and nice to take a walk before or after meal. There are many tables decorated with squared tablecloths, typical of old houses in Italy. On the walls there are pictures of famous Italian actors such as Alberto Sordi or Totò. There's a big heated veranda in winter that becomes a beautiful terrace in warmer weather. The ambience has nothing to do with design or fashion, just tradition.

Who to invite: Friends and family; this place is suitable for big friendly tables, for having fun and enjoying the delicious food. It's perfect for a Sunday lunch.

Pros: Guido Esposito, the owner, has a lot of experience in catering and that's the reason why he decided to set up a wooden oven, importing 1,850 kilograms of stones directly from Salerno. If you want authentic Italian pizzas, then this is the place. The service is good and kind, the menu has a wide choice and it's translated in English, Italian and Chinese. There's also a children's menu.

Cons: If you are looking for a quiet or romantic place, you may want to look elsewhere. Bella Napoli is often full of families so it can get noisy.

Recommended: The pizza is definitely amazing. But if you want to try another typical Italian dish, no doubt, the lasagna is delicious. It is cooked very well, just as Italian grandmothers make it, with fresh and imported ingredients.

Don't order: The fish. Although it's well done, the pasta and pizza dishes are just too good to pass up.

Drinks: Soft drinks, Italian still and sparkling water and a great selection of Italian wines

Cost: 300-500 yuan

What else: This restaurant has already won the "ICS high price value" which determines whether a restaurant offers good value for money.

Address: 946 Changle Rd (near Wulumuqi Rd)

Tel: 6248-8985


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