SERVING up Italian grub to loyal customers for 16 years, Luciano’s is a firm favourite with Sunderland diners.
Despite working in the city centre for three years, I’ve only crossed its doors once and beat a hasty retreat due to crowds waiting for tables.
But this time I had it earmarked for an early dinner, before a trip to the Empire, with a pal who travelled over the Tyne to see what Sunderland eateries have to offer.
Tucked away off the main street, head up a flight of stairs which have seen better days and you emerge into a cosy and traditional Italian restaurant, complete with waiters just like mamma used to make.
We got there just before 6pm and tables were starting to fill up, as Luciano’s is a popular spot with the pre-theatre crowd.
Happy hour starters were a bargain £3.30, so my theatre companion and I treated ourselves to minestrone soup, for me, and buca di patate, or deep-fried potato skins and dips for him.
The soup tasted homemade and came in a generous portion, with a slice of ciabatta, garnished with black pepper by our smiley waitress.
My dining partner holds potato skins up as the defining dish of any restaurant and was pleased with the long, crispy strips of skin, served with barbecue and garlic dips.
I indulged my love of seafood for the main course, with gamberoni alla piccata – king prawns cooked in white wine, chilli and tomato – for £8.20.
He was already drooling over the thought of a mixed barbecue of beef and chicken fillet for £8.40, both served with chips or vegetables.
My prawns weren’t the biggest portion I’ve ever enjoyed, but the sauce was decent enough and the prawns fat and juicy.
My vegetables were steamed and basic, nothing to get excited about, but the boy was delighted with his sizzling hot plate of meat, accompanied by homemade chips.
The beef was spot on, not overcooked, but he felt the whole dish would have benefited from the very un-Italian addition of some barbecue sauce.
Just goes to show, you can take the boy out of Newcastle ...
Traditional decor, complete with candles in wine bottles, a menu to match and bustling and friendly service means Luciano’s is always busy, so it pays to book a table.
We skipped on desserts or coffee and with happy hour prices and two soft drinks, the bill came to £26.70.
Happy hour at Luciano’s runs from 5.30pm-6.45pm, Sunday to Friday and 5.30pm-6.30pm on Saturdays.