IT was the ‘Beast from the East’ that led us to Bella Italia for an evening meal.

We had set our sights on a country pub but the blizzard caused a quick reversal of that decision, and we plumped instead for an eaterie within an easy drive from home.

The Italian restaurant, on Stirling Road, Clifton Moor, fitted the bill particularly as my husband works nearby.

I met him outside the inviting-looking building, set close to Vue cinema and a number of other national chain restaurants, with ample parking.

The fairy lights either side of the door and the promise of a tasty meal rendered it, quite literally, a port in a snow storm.

“You might have a bit of a wait,” a waitress told us as we entered, “We have so few staff here due to the weather.”

We debated leaving, especially as there were two large parties already seated, one celebrating a 21st, the other a child’s birthday.

But we stayed and did not have to wait long before we were shown to a two-seater booth.

Seating is a mixture of booths separated by wooden panels, and tables. Fifteen minutes later our order was taken.

For a starter Andrew opted for polpette (£6.29), pork and beef meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce with melted mozzarella, served with ciabatta toast.

There were so many meatballs - 11 in all - that I worried he would not have room for a main course. They were, he said, well-seasoned, with a nice, tangy sauce.

I chose pizza spirale (£5.49), oven-baked pizza twists filled with melted mozzarella with a fiery tomato dip, however I made the mistake of offering one to my husband who went on to polish most of them off.

Well, I suppose I did steal his crunchy ciabatta toast.

As a chorus of ‘happy birthday’ reached our ears from across the room, and a young boy blew out candles on a football-shaped cake, we learned from one of the two waiting staff that had made it to work, that the staffing shortage had forced them to close early. It seemed that we were among the last batch of customers.

On to the main course. Andrew picked gamberoni (£12.99), which he declared “delicious.” The spaghetti, he said was cooked al dente, with the king prawns plump and succulent, and the spicy garlic and tomato sauce adding to the flavours. Green chillis gave colour, texture and bite.

My burger Americano (£11.29), was perhaps a bit of a dull choice, but it was what I fancied on the night. While a good size and well-seasoned, my beef burger was rather dry and tough, requiring a lot of chewing.

It was served in a bun, with a crisp piece of lettuce, a slither of tomato, slices of onion, and mayonnaise.

But my main bugbear was that the meal arrived on a wooden board.

I’d far rather a plate, so that food does not shoot off so easily as you cut. The board also had a hole at one end, through which bits of food dropped.

A tangy tomato sauce served in a separate pot was a tasty dip for my side serving of chips.

Beneath industrial-inspired lighting - a bit too bright for my taste - images of Italy adorn the walls of this restaurant: the leaning tower of Pisa, scooters, gondolas.

I’m not sure if it was due to the weather, but I found the eaterie quite chilly, despite wearing a thick jumper and fleece, although other diners seemed comfortable in less.

The staff were friendly and jovial and did a great job under pressure. One waitress had, she said, been called in on her day off, and was worrying about how she would get home.

Bella Italia - which already has a restaurant in Low Petergate - opened in Clifton Moor in September 2014 as part of a national expansion project which saw 20 new sites open across the UK taking the total to more than 90 restaurants.

We finished off with two gorgeous desserts: a Sicilian lemon cheesecake (£5.99) for me and a chocolate orange brownie (£5.99) for Andrew.

My cheesecake was gorgeous, the sharp lemon contrasting with the fluffy cheesecake and crunchy biscuit.

The total bill came to £48.04. We drank tap water throughout, skipped coffee and drove carefully home.