REVIEW: Mamma Italia, Stannington Grove, Sunderland

Mamma Italia at The Ashbrooke, Stannington Grove

Mamma Italia at The Ashbrooke, Stannington Grove

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What started as a quick bite to eat after work soon snowballed into a cocktail of good food, tip top service and a foray into the unknown world of limoncello mojitos.

At a fiver a pop, the lethal latter left me heading home in a happy haze four hours after calling in for tea here.

Parma ham and mozzarella starter

Parma ham and mozzarella starter

But that’s the key to Mamma Italia’s success in a city that’s swamped with Italian restaurants: its welcome is so warm you just want to stay put.

Despite being tucked away off a main thoroughfare, flanked by houses in Stannington Grove, it manages to pull in punters from far and wide and regularly features in the upper echelons of tripadvisor.

That’s thanks in part to restauranteur Pascal, who also dishes up Italian classics at eateries in Whitburn, Boldon, Newbottle and Durham. The main man himself popped out of the kitchen to mingle at tables and check the food was to everyone’s satisfaction – a personable touch that’s rare to find these days.

Many of those around us were regulars, and were greeted as such by a cheery troupe of serving staff.

It’s a few years since I last visited and it’s overgone an image overhaul. Dark imposing reds and browns have been ditched to make way for a lighter, rustic feel that makes much more sense in a smaller restaurant.

Meanwhile, retro images of Italian icons adorn the walls and tunes piped through the speakers include Andrea Bocelli. In the words of Chandler Bing, could this place BE any more Italian?

The Mediterranean feel flows through the menu: two sides of classic fare from our cousins on the continent.

Prices are as you would expect from a restaurant of this ilk, and are even cheaper if you visit during Happy Hour, which runs Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm to 7pm, when you can pick up pizza and pastas for £5.90, as well as other options.

I chose the parma ham and mozzarella to start (£5.90). It was served warm leaving the cheese and ham flavours to ooze together in a delicious medley. You get three large slabs for your pounds too – it’s my pet hate when they skimp on the cheese.

For mains, the fettine al pepe caught my eye. At £11.90, it’s a more than fair price for fillet steak. It was tender and fat free and, not as flavoursome as other cuts, comes smothered in sauce. In this case a moreish peppercorn, brandy and cream, which was just the right side of rich. Just like Mamma makes.