This is one restaurant proving that substance over style can lead to success.
Quaint eatery Mamma Mia, nestled above the Jolly Sailor, isn’t flash in appearance, but friendly service, a homely feel and tasty food more than make up for it.
Visiting midweek I was expecting the dining area to be quiet, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see staff bustling between tables.
My companion and I – mother Turnbull on this occasion – were seated at a cosy table for two.
The pleasant Italian hostess offered us drinks and delivered two warm bread rolls to the table, while we browsed the dishes on offer.
I love trying any new food, so I was thrilled when I saw that Mamma Mia is serving some Italian traditions that are less common in Sunderland restaurants.
A specials board boasted the controversial meat veal, while the menu offers a range of pork fillet and bean dishes.
After careful examination I settled on calamari Luciano (£4.90), or squid in chilli and tomato sauce to start, and orecchiette alle vongole (£8.90), pasta disks with clams and courgettes in olive oil and fresh garlic, for main course.
Mam settled on funghi al mascarpone (£5.90), that’s mushrooms in mascarpone cheese to you and me, and her favourite dish spaghetti scoglio (£8.20) pasta with squid, tiger prawns and clams in garlic, wine and tomato sauce, for main course.
Once the orders were placed, the waitress brought two bite-size pieces of bruschetta drizzled with a rich pesto sauce to the table, announcing they were “compliments of the chef”.
The blast of flavour, before we even got to our chosen meals, was a nice touch, and left me anticipating what was to come. The starters were delivered quickly and even these were slightly unusual.
Succulent squid in spicy tomato sauce sat atop a thick slice of ciabatta – more bread – and having never tried squid in this form I was thrilled. The mushrooms, which also came presented on bread, were juicy with a rich mascarpone sauce.
Plates were whipped away after finishing and there wasn’t too long to wait until the main course was placed before us.
Unfortunately, I was given the wrong meal, but after pointing this out to the delightful hostess, it was quickly changed, so there wasn’t long to wait before my steaming bowl of food arrived.
This is one of the most unusual pasta dishes I’ve tried, but it works. Round, al dente morsels of orecchiette pasta swimming in a light broth with juicy clams. I cleared the bowl.
Mam enjoyed her bowl of mixed seafood which was piled high with huge prawns, clams and fresh squid – including the best bit, the tentacles.
This unpretentious eatery is a little out of the way and we had to drive, so it was a non-alcoholic occasion, but it is worth the journey.