The Stage Door: High Street West, Sunderland

The Stage Door, High Street West
The Stage Door, High Street West
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I’M surprised no one’s thought of linking the name of a restaurant in this part of town with the neighbouring Empire Theatre before.

The newly-opened The Stage Door has done just that and it works well, making it an obvious choice for pre-theatre dining.

I booked in advance ahead of seeing a show and the staff member checked whether I had theatre tickets when making my booking, to ensure there was enough time between eating and curtain up.

Formerly Toni’s, the restaurant still offers Italian food, but with a more pared-down minimalistic decor.

Gone are the Venetian masks and mirrors which once adorned the walls to be replaced by a red, black and white colour scheme. The menu is also simple, but effective.

I was glad to see they had stuck with the Italian theme as it was something missing in this corner of town after Amalfi’s became an Indian restaurant.

As we made our choices a waitress brought over a complimentary portion of battered prawns which was a pleasant touch to start our meal.

For those counting the pennies, the two-course specials are a good offer with a pizza/pasta main meal option at £9.95 or a beef/chicken main meal offer priced £11.95.

Again, simplicity seems to be the key theme with specials dishes designed to ensure swift service ahead of a show.

As such, you can choose from starters such as garlic mushrooms and bruschetta and mains including the usual Italian pizza and pasta choices.

The meat options include beef stew or chicken breast in a choice of sauces.

The non-specials menu is a little more adventurous with starter options such as goats’ cheese (£5.95) and main meals including mussels (£9.95), belly pork (£10.95), confit duck leg (£11.95) and steaks.

Impressed by our fish taster earlier on, I went with the salt and chilli squid (£4.95) to start.

Service was swift and soon after ordering, a generous portion of squid was winging its way to our table overlooking the Minster.

The dish wasn’t too heavily fried – my pet hate – which allowed the flavour of seafood and the fiery coating to shine through. It was complemented by an Asian-style dipping sauce which I polished off in no time.

My theatre date for the night, Laura, was also impressed with her bruschetta from the specials menu which arrived laden with tomato and herbs.

Hankering after a carb-fix, we both ordered pizzas – though I have to admit to missing the novelty foot-long pizzas which used to feature on the Toni’s menu.

It’s a dish you can’t really get wrong, but I was particularly pleased that my ham and mushroom option came loaded with gammon-style ham as opposed to a more flimsy meat.

There was no skimping on the pepperoni served on the pizza opposite me either.

Neither of us could squeeze in a dessert, but those after a sweet treat can check out the daily specials which start from £2.95.

Drinks-wise, wines start from £11.95 for a bottle of house white or red, to £19.96 for a bottle of prosecco. Heavier drinks like John Smith’s cost £3.20 a pint or pick up a premium lager for £3.20.

Unlike the stage door to the rear of the Empire, there was no waiting here – it set us up perfectly for a night at the theatre with plenty of time to spare.

Katy Wheeler

Twitter: @sunechokaty