Does this city need another Italian restaurant? Judging by this latest eaterie serving up such fare, the jury’s still out on that culinary question.
Last month the family behind Dandy Longlegs in Silksworth Row opened up their latest Sunderland venture a stone’s throw away at the Isis. They took over the upstairs room, gave it an Italian flavour and named it, rather fittingly, La Familia.
The Ship Isis, named in honour of Sunderland’s shipbuilding history, is a gem of a boozer, and it’s got the real ale awards to prove it, but the tricolours of the Italian flag which weave their way upstairs and a string of matching neon lights seem a little at odds with the traditional oak panels of this Grade II-listed building.
We hadn’t booked, despite it being Friday night, but it turned out we didn’t need to – our group of three had the restaurant to ourselves for the duration of our meal.
Thankfully, the pictures of yesteryear Sunderland and the impressive Vaux mirror above the fireplace have been left untouched, retaining the charm of the room.
Instead of tinkering too much with the decor, the new venture has stamped an Italian identity with red and white table cloths and chianti bottle candleholders in a nod to retro restaurants of this ilk. It’s a nice idea, but not one candle was lit on our visit. This, coupled with a lack of music – and fellow diners – left it somewhat lacking in atmosphere. Where’s the strains of Pavarotti when you need him?
So to the food. In keeping with the traditional tablecloths, the menu will be familiar to anyone who’s ever eaten in an Italian restaurant with a range of pizzas, pastas, risotto, meat and fish dishes. Prices are reasonable, with pizzas and pastas starting at £5.95.
I chose the antipasto misto to start. It’s well priced for the portion at £9.95 for two people. It arrived as a huge round of cured meats, olives, salad, bread and balsamic and oil for dunking. Starter-wise, it was pretty perfect.
Thanks to social media, taking photos of food is commonplace in restaurants these days – but I’ve never had a waitress ask to take a picture of the food with her own phone for the restaurant’s Facebook before. It was an odd request, and hopefully not one that’s going to catch on.
For mains, I went with the salmon fillet (£10.95). The menu didn’t state what it comes with, but I asked for a salad.
Again, it was a good size for my pounds, a slab of flakey fish surrounded by a rich and lustrous white wine parsley.
My friends fared less well with their choice of pollo valdostana (£10.95), which is advertised as breaded chicken breast topped with Parma ham and a cheese and tomato sauce.
While the accompanying chips were praised as ‘proper chips’ and wolfed down, the chicken was more of a disappointment due to soggy breadcrumbs and no Parma ham and the bulk of it was left untouched on both plates.
We were offered the bill before we’d finished our drinks or even seen the dessert menu, so I couldn’t tell you what sweet treats are on offer.
Though you can pay by card, the machine is shared with Dandy Longlegs and a poor chap had to dash through the rain with it from the other pub so we could pay.
It’s always great to see a new business open, but in a city already spoilt for choice when it comes to this genre of food, La Familia may need to tackle its teething problems to compete with its Italian cousins.