Gusto Vero, John Street, Sunderland

Gusto Vero - John Street, Sunderland...

Gusto Vero - John Street, Sunderland...

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BIRTHDAY celebrations saw a group of about 12 of us pile into this popular Italians, which is off the main strip of places to eat in Sunderland.

Early Friday evening and it was quiet, so we had the full attention of the staff – never a bad thing when a group of you are trying to order.

Not all of us wanted starters, but those who did had plenty of choice with traditional hot and cold appetisers including deep–fried mozzarella sticks, chicken liver pate and marinated squid, ranging in price from £3.25 to just under £7.

However, we weren’t an adventurous bunch, ordering a selection of garlic breads and potato skins.

Sadly I wasn’t within sampling distance, but all the portions were big enough for two to pick at and the potato skins came with a healthy serving of side salad and a choice of garlic or BBQ dip.

Mam of the birthday girl and her partner opted for the slightly more exotic king prawns with a thermidor sauce and mushrooms in breadcrumbs with stuffed chicken livers.

She was of the opinion that four king prawns and three mushrooms weren’t enough even for a starter, but enjoyed what was there, packed with flavour.

For the main course, I chose salmon al griglia – grilled salmon with an Italian garnish. For £10.95, I would have expected a bigger portion, but the thin slice of pink fish was perfectly grilled – not too crisp on the outside and still falling on to my fork in the middle.

It was served with a small portion of roast vegetables which would have easily fitted into a teacup, but again they were bursting with flavour and I even finished all the carrots and celery, normally my most hated vegetables, as they were so sweet and tasty.

There were similar tales around the table, with another diner enjoying a succulent piece of butterfly chicken breast and a creamy sauce, which came with “a few” chips.

Delicious – but left them wanting more.

What the menu might lack in portion size, it makes up for in choice, with a range of pizzas including bolognese and gusto fritti – with bacon and smoked sausage – which were favourites around the table, none costing more than a tenner.

There’s also plenty of pastas, risottos, chicken, fish and meat, costing up to about £18 for steaks.

Good value can also be found in the happy hour menu, which runs from 11.30am–3pm and 5pm–7pm Mondays to Thursdays, and 11am–6pm Friday and Saturday and offers a smaller range of dishes for under £11.

We passed by on the dessert cabinet as there was some birthday drinking to be done.

With most people paying for their own drinks, the bill came to just over £133, without a service charge, which is added automatically at 10 per cent for larger parties.

I prefer to leave my own tip, but like what’s considered a decent portion, it’s a personal thing.

Jane O’Neill

Twitter: @janethejourno