Filling the gap for pre-theatre dining: Review of Aperitif in High Street West, Sunderland
Since the departure of Amalfi many moons ago, Sunderland has been missing a quality Italian restaurant for pre-theatre dining that’s a stone’s throw from the Empire.
Cue stage right: Aperitif. The name may suggest it’s a bar for a pre-meal drink, but this isn’t just a warm up, it’s the main act.
Despite the fact I’m pretty much a regular at the Empire, this neighbouring restaurant’s previous incarnations as a Chinese had never quite looked enticing enough to lure me through the doors.
But the more recent, and vibrant-looking, Aperitif has filled the gap in the area for an Italian thanks to its cocktail of a warm and relaxed atmosphere mixed with good food at fair prices and sprinkled with friendly service. It’s a recipe for success that’s seen it reach the top 10 of Sunderland’s Trip Advisor, despite it being a relative newcomer in the city.
We visited ahead of a show next door and the atmosphere was buzzing and busy, so much so they had to turn walk-ins away, so booking is advisable.
The colour palette’s on trend with its burnt orange and grey hues with tipple of the moment, Aperol Spritz, branding on a light feature on the bar. We were seated at a raised bench and large table area at the front where we ate with other diners, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s also a choice of booths and more standard tables if you prefer.
They were juggling multiple covers, but staff were attentive and prompt and made sure to ask diners if they were going to the theatre as it got closer to curtain up next door.
Menu-wise, there’s nothing too fancy or intimidating on there. Instead, it’s hearty Italian classics – all the usual suspects - at more than reasonable prices. During happy hour, which runs from noon until 7pm you can pick up a good range of pizzas and pastas for £6.90, a price point which only rises to £8.40 for a la carte. There's also a tapas menu if you’re after some lighter bites.
I chose the Involtino Tiepido (£6.40 and one of the pricier starters), which was served as a satisfyingly chunky mound of mozzarella, wrapped in plenty of Parma ham and drizzled with balsamic and oil for extra flavour. It’s a difficult dish to get wrong, but there was certainly no complaints.
For mains, I had the Tagliatelle al tonno and olive, which was more than fairly priced at £6.90. It’s a simple dish, but it was done well: the pasta had just the right amount of bite, there was plenty of chunks of tuna, punctuated with olives and covered, but not smothered, in a light tomato sauce. It was nothing too heavy; just what you want if you have a couple of hours sitting in the stalls ahead of you.
If it’s pre-theatre drinks you’re after (that are certainly cheaper than the Empire), there’s a colourful array of cocktails on offer at two for £10, including spritzes such as the classic Aperol as well as a limoncello version. The wine list is also better than the average Italian’s in the city centre and I really enjoyed a fruity Pinot Grigio which was £5.95 for a large glass. Such good food and wine for two for under £40 is worthy of a standing ovation before you even get to the theatre.