Mike and I were invited to dine at Bella Italia. Alvin MY was performing an acoustic set, accompanied by guitarist Wan Rydwan [from the band Romandewi]. We were quite early, hoping to listen to Alvin’s first set, then wander down to the Gaya Street Christmas Festival.
I was pleased by the warm and inviting ambience of the restaurant. There was some cosy Christmas decor, busy waiters milled about and brought us menus. Bella Italia, under the astute direction of manager Lisa Ambrose, hit a sweet spot with me from the word ‘Go’.
Alvin MY arrived well before he was due to perform [good!], along with his beautiful [and beautifully pregnant] wife Dazeree. I looked around, and apart from a couple of tables in front of us which were reserved, it was virtually a full house already. Impressive.
The menu: for RM19 [with juice] or RM25 [with wine] the restaurant offered entrees of soups or salads [we both had the Caesar’s salad, which was simple and surprisingly piquant]; main course was a good selection of pasta dishes [I had puttanesca, Mike had linguine marinara], or strip sirloin, or fish. Dessert choices were fried ice cream and tiramisu, so we picked one of each.
For me, the set up was virtually perfect. Good food, and sipping a glass of wine while listening to Alvin and Wan was exactly the experience I had wanted to enjoy at Bella Italia. The restaurant and the musicians completely hit the mark. Bull’s Eye. And I’ll get to the music later….
Bella Italia is part of Jesselton Hotel, and it is on a street corner. Manager Lisa said she wanted the musicians to perform in the angle of the ‘L’, so that the music would reach both ends of the establishment – the full length of the restaurant and the hotel lobby. Great idea. I could eat and see Alvin and Wan, rather than have the music come from around the corner in the hotel lobby, where the grand piano is.
And the music? Alvin MY owned it. The song selection he made was absolutely perfect for a dining crowd. It was melodic, easy and non-intrusive. He and Wan harmonised well, two voices and a guitar. Beautiful simplicity; and for that, you need to be good, because there is nowhere to hide.
Alvin opened with Quando, Quando, Quando, and Wan’s earthy voice was great for his take of Stuck On You. Alvin sang Fallen, which I had heard for the first time on the ‘Love’s Tapestry’ album, sung by Gina Panizales. More Than Words, ‘Tears in Heaven; all in harmony and quite exquisite. There were tracks from Carpenters, Eagles, and some Christmas songs too; all adding to the Yuletide atmosphere inside the restaurant, as well as outside on Gaya Street.
I can say without any reservation that this evening was the best example of dining with live music that I have had the pleasure to enjoy in my two years living in Kota Kinabalu. This is the way it should be done.
I left the restaurant full of nostalgic Christmas feelings, as I meandered down the road to look at a Nativity scene and then a stage beyond, where accomplished Sabahan musicians Roger Wang and Daniel Mojina were just starting their set. [It meant I had to miss Alvin’s second set, which he told me is more upbeat. This again is appropriate, since diners would have had a few more drinks, and conversation volumes would have upped a bit by then. All in the formula for a satisfying night out.]
If you can, catch Alvin and Wan tomorrow Wednesday Dec 22nd, and Sunday Dec 26th. That’s what’s left on the December calendar, and I don’t know what Lisa’s plans are beyond that. But she’s giving live music a three-month trial, and if this night was anything to go by, I think she has the Midas Touch.
Thank you Alvin, Wan, Lisa and the staff at Bella Italia for a night of good food and fine music.