AS someone who drinks in Houghton regularly, I was disappointed when bosses at the Golden Lion pub announced in 2013 that it was closing.
The public were told that the historic site, which is classed as listed, had been taken over by a business which was converting it into an Italian restaurant.
And despite my disappointment at the demise of “the Gold” as it was known, a visit to the new guise suggests this is a worthy replacement.
I called up late to book a table for two but after some checking we were told we’d be able to have a late sitting of 8.45pm.
Unfortunately, when we arrived we were told to come back in 10 minutes’ time.
This was an inconvenience, but on our return we were quickly seated with a nice window seat. Avanti offers a wide starter menu, but I went for a Mediterranean favourite in the form of minestrone soup, while my girlfriend opted for the gamberoni all’alglio, which is king prawns in garlic and white wine sauce.
Both were excellent.
The soup didn’t look hugely appetising when it arrived, as it was packed with vegetables, but the dish had been well-seasoned and had a real kick to the flavour.
A bugbear of mine is when there are too many onions but the chef had got this just right and I wolfed it down.
Similarly, the prawns were a hit. A large portion blended nicely with the sauce.
For the main course I opted for a pizza diavola, a spicy effort with Italian salami, peppers and chilli.
Being no stranger to hot food, I dived into the first couple of slices before the burn hit me.
This was one hot pizza and it left my eyes watering.
The taste couldn’t be faulted though, the meat nicely cooked and blended with the mozzarella while the pizza base was light but crispy at the same time.
My girlfriend went for the tagliatelle carbonara and admitted it was one of the best she’d had in ages.
Again the meat was cooked perfectly and accompanied by a rich and creamy sauce.
After finishing our starters and main courses fully, with all four plates cleaned, we had no room for dessert and couldn’t even bring ourselves to look at the menu.
The service was pleasant and we were also given a free shot of Amaretto as the bill (just over £40 which included a bottle of rose wine) arrived.
The only way Avanti blotted its copy book was the toilets, which haven’t been given much of a spruce up since the building was converted into a restaurant.
But, early in its life, the place seems to be pulling in punters by the boat load judging from the packed front room we witnessed on our visit.
I still pine for the Golden Lion, but having to make do with Avanti is certainly no bad thing.