It’s the smell that hits you first.
An open kitchen at the back of Fiume means the aroma of hearty Italian cooking greets you as take your seat in this capacious restaurant.
Despite being just a stone’s throw from the A182, Fiume’s location has a scenic charm on the riverbanks of the Wear, with plenty of free parking for those coming from outside of Fatfield.
Tuesday night and the place was bustling – always a good sign.
Though I’ve enjoyed cocktails (quite a few of them) in the downstairs River Bar, this was my first time eating upstairs at its culinary cousin.
It’s got an identity separate to the bar downstairs: bistro-style dark wood, feature lighting and a mish-mash of artworks including Parisian-style Art Nouveau posters.
It all makes for a relaxed, informal atmosphere and one that obviously keeps diners coming back for more – on a weekend night the restaurant can do up to 300 covers.
The staff are obviously used to dealing with a steady stream of custom and were fast, friendly and efficient.
Food-wise, there’s a good choice of Italian staples and Mediterranean-inspired dishes with a twist, so as well as the classic options on the pizza menu, such as margherita (£6.75), it’s also peppered with more unusual options, such as the carnivore, which features a bolognese base topped with pulled pork, pepperoni and red pepper (£7.95).
The starters list is particularly vast, with a selection of garlic pizzas, brushchettas, variations on gamberoni and more.
I chose the antipasto, which was one of the pricier options at £8.25 for one or £14.95 for two.
I’m sure I ordered it for one, and was charged for one, but it was big enough to feed two – this is a place with portions that cater for people who like their food. A chunky wooden board almost buckled under the weight of a round of deep fried goats cheese (not too fried as to swamp the texture of the cheese); Parma ham, a satisfying mound of chorizo; slivers of salami, a deep-fried rice ball, terracotta pots of olives and chopped tomatoes and hunks of toasted bread for dunking. I had to admit defeat half way through and my friend was forced to help me out.
As tempted as I was by the wafts of pizza and pasta being eaten around us, I chose one of the seafood options for mains.
The trio of salmon, sea bass and king prawns sounded like a perfect medley of fish, and it was. Again, the portion was huge: a slab of salmon flanked by two fillets of sea bass and punctuated by chunky prawns.
It comes served on a bed of fregola, a type of Sicilian pasta with a lighter, springier texture than most. The sauce was a delicate blend of lemon and parsley, chilli and garlic – plenty of garlic, this is a dish to steer clear of on date night.
It was a dish loaded with flavour – my only quibble is that, with so much going on, it didn’t need the oil that seemed to have been added. Again, it was one of the pricier options at £18.95, but you expect that with the quantity of seafood.
A particularly good deal is the lunch and early dinner specials menu, which offers two courses for £7.95 and three courses for £10.95.
Like its sister bar downstairs, cocktails are a top tipple here and reflect the food offering. For example, their Italian white cosmo (£5.50), offers an Italian twist on the cosmo classic with vodka, elderflower liquer and white grape juice.
Mediterranean classics with a modern flair seems to be the recipe for success at Fiume.