Marcellos, Albion Place, Sunderland

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It’s an oldie but a goodie – Marcellos is one of Sunderland’s most well-established Italian restaurants.

This family-run business has been attracting pizza and pasta-lovers for as long as I can remember – and it’s easy to see why.

I’ve always found it to be a fail-safe option for good food and swift service, so when a friend and I decided to pop out for an impromptu Saturday night meal, it was an obvious destination.

Marcellos is a Labyrinth-esque eaterie with different rooms and I’m never sure which bit I’m going to get a table in. On this occasion, it was in the downstairs section.

There’s little natural light in this basement area of the restaurant which made it a romantic setting for the various courting couples around us.

The menu is typically Italian and features a range of risottos, pizza, pastas, steak and seafood – you get the picture.

What does make it stand out is its quality.

Though I’m often tempted to deviate, I usually always have the mozzarella wrapped in parma ham starter here (£6.20).

And this visit was no different.

It’s a basic starter which features on umpteen menus in the city, but Marcellos’ version always seems to beat its culinary contemporaries hands down.

The cheese is always the right side of melt-in-your-mouth gooey, the parma ham lightly flavoured and not too greasy while the dressing, which envelops the main ingredients, is always spot on.

My friend also gave the thumbs up to her plaice goujons which are a cheaper starter option at £4.50. Packed full of fresh fish and beautifully presented, they laugh in the face of fishfingers.

Feeling unadventurous, I went with a staple main course – spaghetti carbonara (£7.75).

It’s a dish that can sometimes be ruined by being too rich for me, but this version was just right and managed to be creamy, without being sickly.

If it’s Italian classics like this you’re after, you can shave a few pounds off the price by visiting during happy hour, which runs Monday to Saturday lunch times from noon to 2pm and every night from 5pm to 7pm.

Katy Wheeler