Review: The New Amalfi, Houghton Road, Newbottle, Houghton

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HOUGHTON’S not my usual haunt.

However, in my quest to scoff around the region for the benefit of our readers, I thought I’d give it a try.

The village already boasts Mama’s Italian Kitchen which has become popular with Sunderland’s football glitterati, but The New Amalfi is snapping at its heels to provide quality Italian grub in the area.

Based in the Sun Inn, it occupies the conservatory area that used to house the Limoncello restaurant.

Amalfi is of course a name familiar to Sunderland diners. Amalfi’s on Church Lane, opposite the Sunderland Empire, was a popular pre-theatre restaurant for many years before it became the Spice Empire earlier this year.

The owners of the New Amalfi ran the Sunderland eaterie from 1991 to 2001 and have now resurrected its name in Houghton.

I visited with Echo wife Cara Houchen on a Thursday night.

We made a schoolgirl error in that we hadn’t booked and the place was heaving. But, as the restaurant is attached to the Sun Inn, we sat in the pub section.

It’s a perfectly pleasant village pub, loaded with atmosphere. The restaurant area, meanwhile, is a more rustic affair and was full of families. The smell from the kitchen filled the air and was mouth-wateringly good, so we cut the chat and got down to menu choices.

We’d just missed the happy hour, which runs daily from 5pm to 7pm, but the regular prices still won’t break the bank coming in at the £8-£10 mark for most of the main meals.

It’s all typical Italian dishes with a few more unusual options, such as white bait.

Starters-wise, we were torn between options so chose to share goats cheese topped with peppers (£5.90) and warm Parma ham in mozzarella (£5.90).

Service was excellent – particularly from our waiter Alex, who was charming and helpful – and our starters arrived promptly.

We divvied up the portions and tucked in.The goats cheese was sublime and we were presented with a huge slab of the stuff.

It was deliciously gooey and was complemented by a colourful array of peppers on the top.

The mozzarella and ham was also a plentiful portion and hit the spot perfectly.

Despite a constant stream of custom to the restaurant, our mains didn’t take long to arrive.

I’d chosen the spaghetti scoglio and for my £7.90 was presented with a tasty-looking heap of spaghetti in squid, tiger prawns, clams, garlic, wine and tomato sauce.

It was delicious and I savoured every bite. Being presented with a bowl for my clam shells was a nice touch too.

Amalfi’s in Sunderland city centre was always famed for its steaks, so Cara plumped for one of the menu’s meatier options.

The Filetto al Pepe – 10ounces of fillet steak in brandy, cream and a peppercorn sauce – was also the priciest dish on the menu. But boy was it worth the extra pennies.

Cara was presented with a huge slab of steak which was smothered in rich sauce. She clocked me eyeing it up and allowed me a taste. It oozed flavour and gave me a serious case of plate envy – I’ll be ordering the steak next time.

With drinks our bill came to £54, but be warned, there’s no card machine so bring cash. It was a minor glitch in an otherwise superb meal.