Since its inception 30 years ago Luciano’s has become something of a Sunderland institution.
There can be few Mackems who haven’t eaten here.
It appears to have survived the decades despite scores of other Italian restaurants springing up elsewhere in the city.
On our visit on a Friday night every table was full.
So, what’s still attracting food-lovers to this restaurant, tucked behind a main street which you’d be forgiven for missing if you didn’t know it was there?
Friendly staff – check. Good grub at good prices – check. Consistently high quality of service – check.
I visited with chum and moniker twin Katie and we were greeted by a cheery chap who directed us to the bar area for a glass of vino, while they prepared our table.
The decor is perhaps a little old fashioned with Italian restaurant stereotypes such as wine bottles as makeshift candelabras and pictures of Pavarotti adorning the walls, but it’s still charming.
The ambience was dark and atmospheric yet simultaneously warm and friendly and we were surrounded by cosy courting couples and larger groups, including birthday outings which are almost a mainstay of the eaterie’s business.
Indeed Luciano’s seems to cater for everyone – an ethos that’s reflected in its menu.
Starters choices seemed more vast than most with about 20 to whet your appetite, ranging from homemade liver pate (£4.60), to deep fried Camembert with a Cumberland sauce for £4.60.
I went with an oldie, but a goodie: mozzarella and tomato. For my £4.80 I was presented with a good-sized portion which tasted fresh and flavoursome.
Katie’s choice was pricier at £6.40.
However, for her extra pounds she was presented with a generous prettily-presented plate of prawns wrapped in smoked salmon with a perfectly-prepared Marie Rose sauce.
There’s plenty to wade through main course-wise too, even the pickiest of eaters will be able to find something they like, but staff seemed happy to keep popping back as we made our deliberations.
As much as I love spaghetti carbonara at home, I often avoid it in restaurants as I’ve had too many experiences of it being prepared swimming in oil and garlic.
Putting my trust in Luciano’s, I ordered its version which is cheap at £6.90.
It was perfection on a plate. Al dente pasta encased in a delicious blend of cream, pancetta and Parmesan that was just the right side of rich.
Katie chose from the lengthy chicken section of the menu and had the pollo con funghi e peperoni (£11.50) – a chicken breast cooked with peppers, onions, mushrooms, red wine, brandy,tomato sauce and a hint of cream.
She declared it a tasty concoction and it more than hit the spot.
As well as sharing the same name, Katie and I both possess the ability to gossip for England and we were still sat in the restaurant more than two and a half hours after arriving.
Despite being the last scoffers standing, the staff, who were probably eager to tidy up and get home, didn’t shoo us out the door. Instead they gave us a shot of Limoncello to see us on our merry way.
No wonder people keep coming back.