A father and son team hope their new restaurant will become a familiar fixture to city centre diners.
La Familia has opened above the historic Isis pub in Silksworth Row, dishing up classic Italian food.
It replaces Barnett’s, which formerly operated the upstairs site, and is the brainchild of Gavin Lish and his dad Graeme who run the nearby Dandy Longlegs bistro and bar.
The Isis, and its Grade II-listed Victorian building, is one of Sunderland’s most popular pubs winning accolades such as the Sunderland and South Tyneside CAMRA branch Pub of the Year.
But Gavin says the new restaurant retains the pub’s traditional character.
“We’ve tried to keep the originality of the room,” explained the businessman. “But we’ve incorporated a retro Italian theme with red and white checkered tablecloths and chianti bottles as candle holders.
“I have such fond memories of going to traditional Italian restaurants like that with my grandad when I was little. So many places go down the Jamie’s Italian route these days, with pastel colour schemes and fake topiary decorations, but I wanted to keep it traditional.
“The menu is like that too, we’re serving proper gamberoni and mussels, as well as cheap pizzas and pastas.”
La Familia, which has created six new jobs, has drafted in Anthony Forsyth, who has trained and worked in Venice, to add an authentic Italian flavour to the dishes.
After Barnett’s moved to the former Raffles in Frederick Street, Gavin says he saw the site as a prime business opportunity.
Gavin, who opened Dandy Longlegs with his family in June last year, said: “We’ve built up a good relationship with Camerons (the brewery which operates The Isis) since we opened. They say they’ve noticed a 15 per cent increase in their wet trade, as it’s become a bit of a route for people. They move from us to The Isis or vice versa.
“So when this room became available at The Isis I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.”
La Familia is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Sunday and will also run a bar menu downstairs, including hand held cannellonis, which are aimed at people visiting on match days.
Since opening Dandy Longlegs, Graeme and Gavin, along with brothers Brandon and Jordan, have opened a further two North East venues - The Bay Horse in Wolsingham, Weardale, and the soon-to-open Bijou nightclub in Darlington.