Bellini, Seaburn Dene, Sunderland

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Style and substance a recipe for success

I’m a sucker for an Italian accent. Although the city may be missing one suave Italian after last week’s SAFC announcement, there’s plenty more of our Mediterranean cousins who are still charming Mackems.

We were met by cheeky smiles and thick accents as we walked into a restaurant that’s managed to create quite a fan base since it opened a few months ago.

Set in the former Dene pub – though you’d never know it after a total image overhaul – this site’s not an obvious setting for a restaurant.

It’s a little out on a limb for Wearsiders who don’t live in the SR6 postcode, but it still manages to lure in plenty of punters who fill up its tables most nights.

It’s easy to see why. This is a restaurant with both style and substance.

Industrial grey chic meets sleek styling here with feature wallpapers, plush velvet seating, mood lighting and uber cool lampshades that wouldn’t look out of place in one of those fancy London eateries.

Plus, despite it being in a residential area, there’s plenty of on-site parking for diners.

We took our seats overlooking the open-plan kitchen, a brave move as it means the chefs are constantly under scrutiny, though they didn’t seem fazed one bit.

And why would they be? Judging by the crowds, they’ve obviously got a winning formula on their hands.

Menu-wise, it’s what you would expect from an Italian restaurant. but the chefs’ specials menu, which change frequently, offer something a little more different from the norm, such as salmon supreme with a Cajun butter (£14.95).

My only quibble was that the specials were handed to us on a hand-written piece of A4, which seemed a little at odds with the restaurant’s stylish touches.

After a recommendation, I chose the melanzane to start – grilled aubergines baked with tomato, basil and mozzarella (£4.95).

Thanks to the melted cheese, it’s an incredibly-rich dish and, with a large portion served in a shallow iron dish, it would serve as a light meal.

My main meal, though a staple choice, was still deliciously moreish.

I’d gone for the pizza tricolore – topped with rocket, mozzarella and Parma ham. It was piled high with each of its trio of components and was a bargain for £7.95.

Another winning dish on the night was my friend’s choice of pollo picante (£11.95), one of many chicken dishes on the menu, which was beautifully presented.

It featured a plump, tender chicken breast with a spicy tomato sauce that delivered a real kick.

There wasn’t one complaint food-wise from our group of six girls – no mean feat.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we over-stayed out booking.

In a restaurant this busy you can’t expect to hog a table for more than a couple of hours, but our waiter was most apologetic.

He escorted us into the bar area and kept us entertained with some free amaretto shots – our kind of compensation.

These Italians certainly know the score when it comes to keeping diners happy.

Katy Wheeler