What to expect at the new cafe at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Sipping cappuccinos with views of swans gliding across the lake amidst a well-manicured park in full bloom, you wouldn’t think you were just a stone’s throw from one of the city’s centre’s busiest roads and bus routes at Bennelli’s.

Thursday, 29th July 2021, 2:07 pm

The cafe and terrace at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens has always had one of the best views in the city, both outside overlooking Mowbray Park, and inside with a huge panoramic window overlooking the lush greenery of the domed botanical garden – but it’s a site that’s changed hands a number of times over the years.

The excellent Holmeside Coffee helped to bring it to a new audience during their lease and made the most of the terrace with pop up events. Now, the cafe looks to be in another pair of safe hands with new lease-holders Bennelli’s.

Husband and wife team, Alex and Rebecca Bennelli, have years of experience in the hospitality industry having previously ran Bella Mamma in Neville’s Cross, Durham, and the former Bistro By The Sea in Roker. We take a look at what they’re bringing to the table with their latest offering.

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Bennelli's in Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

The food

With Alex hailing from Italy, the menu is true to his mother country’s classic dishes.

Check out the blackboard for the daily specials, but expect a true taste of Italy and the wider Mediterranean, with options such as cannelloni, bruschetta, lasagne and Greek salad.

I ordered the latter, which at £5, was great value for money with a satisfying mound of lettuce, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes and red onion punctuated with plenty of olives and feta.

The cafe has plenty of space for families

My mam, meanwhile, also really enjoyed her vegetable cannelloni (£5.90) which came as two big cylinders packed with flavour in a rich tomato sauce which you can mop up with the accompanying bread.

For lighter bites, you can also pick up panini and focaccia, which are served with salad and crisps for £4.80.

With the temperature rising, we couldn’t resist an ice cream to share, which was again good value for £2.40. Sweet tooths will also appreciate the sundaes (£4.90), with options such as chocolate salted caramel and bubblegum blast.

The drinks

You can also dine al fresco

As the site has an alcohol license, you can enjoy more than just a range of teas and coffees at Bennelli’s.

Draught beer and bottles include Moretti, Shed Head Pale Ale and Brooklyn Special Effect, priced from £4 a pint.

There’s also a good range of wines and spirits on the menu, as well as some colourful cocktails. On a hot day, we relished our Limoncello Spritz cocktails, which were refreshingly fruity. Again, prices are really reasonable at £5.90 each or two cocktails for £7.90.

The decor

Greek Salad and cannelloni

Holmeside Coffee had already done a great job of injecting some personality into the site, and Bennelli’s have also put their stamp on the cafe with a feature geometric print wall and plenty of artworks on the floating shelves, ranging from retro poster art to pictures of the Old Country. Seating is a range of booths, benches, sofas and individual tables, with plenty of space to cater for larger groups and families, as well as outdoor seating on the terrace.

Opening hours

For now, the cafe has the same opening hours as the museum, so Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm, but as it has its own entrance on the terrace there are plans to do events and antipasti and wine nights outside of museum hours.

Is it accessible and family friendly?

Yes, Bennelli’s is very family-focused and accessible. There’s a dedicated menu for little ones where they can tuck into a main, veg sticks and a juice for £4.

The museum’s facilities are next door to the cafe.

Limoncello Spritz from the cocktail menu

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Ice cream desserts from Bennelli's gelato kiosk
One of the seating areas
The views inside are just as good as those outside