I’D heard great things about The Italian Farmhouse so, searching for a suitable date venue, I decided to discover for myself whether it lived up to the hype.
It did and was well worth the little drive out of Sunderland along the A690.
I’m a sucker for trinkets, nick nacks and the like and this place has them in bucket loads.
It’s all very shabby chic: vintage signs, mismatched chairs, old candlesticks, windowsills brimming with empty wine bottles that probably have a few good tales to tell.
The decor immediately won me over, though we were seated in the conservatory area which can get a little hot on a summer’s evening.
To get some of the better seats in the house in the main dining area you have to book early, word has got around about The Italian Farmhouse’s charm.
The owners say they’re keen to bring a touch of the original Italian Farmhouse, in Puglia, to the North East.
They’ve done just that and import many of their ingredients from the Italian region, while also giving a nod to local delicacies – its white fish is landed on the region’s coast and the beef is reared on farms up the road.
The starters menu alone is enough to get your mouth watering with its array of culinary gems such as chargrilled sardines served with a panzanella salad and a delicious-sounding caramelised red onion tart, served with a chive soured cream and deep fried basil.
I was swayed, however, by the roasted portobello mushrooms stuffed with a blend of goats cheese and sundried tomatoes on toasted sourdough (£6.25).
It was perfection on a plate: one of those dishes you just don’t want to end.
My dining partner had the bruschetta – vine cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and torn basil on toasted sourdough. It was more purse-friendly than mine at £4.85 and was given the immediate thumbs up.
My main dish was a tough choice. I was torn between the flash fried calf’s liver served with bacon and red wine sauce (£13.75) and the fillet of seabass cooked in a paper bag with queen scallops, prawns, tomato, fennel and lemon juice (also £13.75).
The seabass won and arrived beautifully presented. It was a bit of a struggle removing all of its paper bag casing, but it was worth the tussle.
It was the best seabass I’ve tasted, even including a recent trip to Tunisia where it’s a staple dish. The fish crumbled into submission as soon as I pierced it with my fork and was a symphony of subtle flavours.
There was nods of appreciation opposite me as he enjoyed a whopping calzone pizza (£6.99).
Price-wise, the bill was not bad at all for what proved to be a delicious meal, at £37 for two courses each plus drinks.
For those on a budget there’s a happy hour evening menu which runs from 5pm to 6.45pm on Monday to Friday and on Saturday from 5pm-6pm.
I’ll definitely be heading back to this little corner of Italy soon. If you love good food you should too.