A menu boasting winter warmers lured me to one of Sunderland’s most popular restaurants on a chilly Thursday night.
D’Acqua’s a consistently high-scorer on Trip Advisor – sitting at number four out of more than 200 in Sunderland on the “Top of the Scoffs” chart – and it’s easy to see why.
Great atmosphere, efficient service and fine food blend seamlessly here.
Granted, its top dishes may be a little more pricey than some of the city centre’s other restaurants, but if it’s quality dishes that differ from the norm you’re after, then D’Acqua should be right up your street.
Though the restaurant looks fairly small from the outside, in the basement-set dining area there’s plenty of space for both large groups and courting couples.
My friend and date for the night, Jodie, was keen to try the private dining room.
With its cosy corner away from fellow diners, mood lighting and music you can control with the flick of a switch, it’s impossibly romantic.
The room – nicknamed the Quinn Room as Niall used to like to eat in there when he lived in Sunderland – can be booked for no extra charge.
Menu-wise, it’s refreshing to find a starters’ list that isn’t dominated by prawn cocktail, mozzarella and tomato salad. Neither of those staples are here.
Instead, you can tuck into more unusual first course choices such as frog’s legs, crab plate, souffle and Yorkshire pudding.
Not feeling overly adventurous, I jumped past the frog’s legs (sorry, awful pun) and chose the scallops (£9.50).
As it’s a notoriously-expensive dish, I was expecting a small portion – nouvelle cuisine-style.
Instead, I was presented with four huge meaty mollusks which were punctuated with slabs of black pudding, a thick and lustrous cauliflower puree and sprinkled with a dense dusting of bacon bits.
The fleshy scallops had been cooked perfectly gently to retain their delicate flavour, which contrasted with the rich black pudding.
Jodie’s starter choice of pulled pork was particularly good value for £5.
She was presented with a whopping portion of slow roasted pork shoulder, shredded in a duck fashion.
It had been blended in a thick and boozy Double Maxim BBQ sauce which gave the meat a real smokey flavour.
Feeling momentarily flush after pay day, I chose the most expensive main meal. The fillet rossini is £24.50, but most of the main meals are about £13.
Tender, lean, juicy and cooked medium rare to a tee, this was a steak feast.
It oozed flavour with every mouthful and was complemented beautifully with a streaky bacon blanket and a moreish Marsala red wine sauce.
I didn’t feel the dish needed the toast base layer, but others may find it a useful accoutrement for mopping up the delicious sauce.
Jodie too enjoyed her squid ink pasta – a deliciously dark pasta dish which was peppered with tiger prawns and scallops.
She’d ordered it as a half portion (£6.50), but after her surprisingly large starter, it proved more than enough.
We wanted a pudding, but the waistbands on our dresses proved unforgiving. With drinks, our meal came to £64.
For those on a pre-Christmas budget, it’s worth checking out the early bird menu.