I WAS blown away by Bellini. Last time I was in this corner of Sunderland, it was in the venue’s former guise as The Dene pub, where I had a dining experience with a suspect pink chicken breast, that put me off returning.
Bellini, however, is a whole new ball game. The place is now a dedicated Italian restaurant with a new look, a new menu, in fact, a new everything.
Pick the restaurant up and plonk it in London, and you’d expect to pay top-notch prices for such as setting.
It’s unrecognisable from its former life with chic fittings and an elegant colour scheme. It’s not the kind of sophistication you expect from a restaurant in the suburbs, but it was a pleasant surprise for my friend and I on our debut Bellini blow out.
Indeed, the menu sounded so impressive we ended up ordering way too much – but we couldn’t resist.
The menu isn’t too vast. I’m not a fan of being bamboozled by choice, but it did boast a select choice of delectable-sounding dishes.
Starters include antipasto (£5.95); grilled aubergines with mozzarella (£5.45); home-made chicken liver pate with red current jelly (£4.95) and more.
Main meals include Italian restaurant staples: pizza, pasta and chicken and steak dishes. Pizzas, pastas and risottos are £5.95 during happy hour or £7.95 as part of the a la carte menu. The chef’s specials, which are separate to the main menu and change weekly, caught our eye.
It featured more unusual sounding gastronomic gems such as deep fried rice balls with diavola sauce (£4.95) and fioccho filled pasta with cheese and pear with a wild mushroom and cream sauce (£7.95).
I ordered from the main menu to start and enjoyed a tasty portion of tomato and mozzarella. My friend Katrina, meanwhile, had the trio of bruschetta which was sublime.
Presented alongside a portion of parma ham, each bruschetta had a different delicious topping. The one smothered in a creamy chorizo topping was my favourite – I sampled them for review purposes, of course.
We made the mistake of ordering a side order of garlic bread and olives too. It was a schoolgirl error, but once the main meals arrived we were determined to polish them off, in spite of our full tummies.
Katrina enjoyed her perfectly-sized portion of risotto con gamberi – creamy risotto laced with smoked haddock, peas, tiger prawns and onion.
I, meanwhile, demolished an impressive-looking tagliata sirloin on rocket salad with Parmesan shavings and sun-blushed tomatoes (£12.95).
Before ordering, I had to ask our waiter what exactly a tagliata steak was. Turns out, it refers to the fact that the steak is served pre-cut.
Whatever it was, it tasted scrumptious. It arrived on a trendy wooden block and was cooked just to my liking: medium rare.
The meat was tender and flavoursome and was complemented beautifully by the fresh rocket and Parmesan.
I savoured every mouthful – in my opinion, it should be promoted to the main menu.