Review of Rustica in Washington Road, Sunderland, as it vyes for national Italian Award
Rustica may be tucked away down Washington Road, but you can’t miss it with its bright yellow facade.
The pub and restaurant with rooms is well-known to Nissan workers as it’s just a stone’s throw away for a post-shift pint, but it’s also got much to attract other diners and drinkers.
Its location off the beaten track means there’s space for plenty of free parking and a good-sized play area if you have little legs in tow – but it’s also easy to get to just off the A19.
Formerly The Three Horseshoes and part of the Tavistock Leisure group (of Roker Hotel fame), it’s been recently taken over by The High Street Group who’ve ramped up the Italian flavour.
While the menu harks back to the Old Country, however, the decor is traditional English pub with a touch of Scottish hunting lodge. Think tartan carpets, faux stags’ antlers and horseshoes on the walls, log burner fires and seats designed for sinking into – a look which was stamped on the pub in 2015 after a massive refurbishment under the previous owners. It’s much the same today, but it didn’t need much work doing to it again and it makes for a cosy atmosphere at this large site which is great for group and family dining.
The a la carte menu is a comprehensive Italian food offering. All the usual suspects are there: mussels, mozzarella starters, pizzas made in the on site pizza oven, no less than 15 pasta options, chicken, steak and fish.
It’s an offering which impressed judges from the national Italian Awards so much that it’s been shortlisted in the Best Italian Restaurant Under 50 Seats category.
I can see what impressed them: it’s classic Italian done well. My starter of Involtini di Mozzarella (£6.95) is a difficult one to get wrong, but this version had more flair than most with the warm mozzarella and Parma ham complemented by a finely-diced tomato and onion salad, a bed of rocket and a good balance of oil and sticky balsamic.
My mains of Risotto alla Pescatora (£9.95) was proper comfort food: a large portion of well-presented shellfish risotto. The tomato-based risotto was just as it should be: thick and creamy with just the right amount of bite. The rice was punctuated with oodles of seafood: masses of mussels, plenty of prawns and satisfying squid.
Kids are also well catered for (there’s plenty of space for buggies) and they can tuck into a pizza or pasta with a soft drink and ice cream for under a fiver.
:: This year’s Italian Awards take place in Manchester on October 6, 2019. As well as Rustica, a number of other Sunderland restaurants will be hoping for a win. Bellini in Seaburn has been shortlisted in Best Italian Restaurant Over 50 Seats and Best Pasta, and Mamma Mia in Whitburn is also in the running for Best Italian Restaurant Under 50 Seats alongside Rustica.
Meanwhile, three Sunderland chefs are in the running for the prestigious Chef of the Year: Aniello Russo from Angelo’s, Ollie from Bellini and Terence Catchside from Azzurri in Washington, the latter are also competing in Pasta of the Year.
Azzurri and Mamma Mia in Whitburn are also competing in the UK National Italian Pizza Championships category.