With not one, but three, 2016 English Italian Awards under its belt, you expect the food at Angelo’s to be lip-smackingly good.
This was my first time trying out the award-winning fare at Angelo’s Trattoria, a sister site to the successful Angelo’s Ristorante in Sunniside.
Its pasta master is Nello Russo, fresh from winning the coveted title of English Italian Chef of the Year for the second year running, who oversees the kitchens at the two sites
While big sis walked away with Best Restaurant in the North East with over 50 seats at this month’s national awards, the fledgling site managed to pick up the same award for under 50 seats just four months after opening.
In a country that loves its Italian food, the sites beat off stiff competition from around England to impress judges including Aldo Zilli and bring the shiny trophies home to Wearside.
What was their recipe for success? Judging by this visit it’s warm Mediterranean service combined with traditional Italian dishes crafted with creative flair.
The trattoria – as you’d expect from the name – has more of a rustic feel than the slicker site in Sunderland city centre. Housed in the former The Olde Ships Inn, it still has touches of the former nautical theme with old rope features and the mahogany bar, but it’s also been given an Italian flavour with pasta packets and oils adorning the shelving and wine bottles-turned-lampshades.
And so to the menu. There’s so many Italian restaurants in the area that their menus often merge into one big pizza pasta offering.
This one whetted our appetites with appetisers of fish cakes and bite-sized fried mozzarella parcels, a great way to ease you into the night and set the tone as a teaser of the quality to come.
While the usual suspects are there – for a particularly good deal visit during happy hour to pick up a pizza or pasta for £5.95 – there’s also some more unusual options, especially on the specials.
Take my mozzarella starter, for instance. It’s usually a pretty nondescript choice at a regular Italian venue. But the millefoglie di mozzarella di bifala e pane carasau (don’t ask me to pronounce it) stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Two satisfying slabs of gooey mozzarella are punctuated with slices of wafer thin bread and grilled vegetables held together with a basil pesto to form some kind of leaning tower of cheese. It’s a little pricier than normal at £7.95, but it’s refreshing to see this most versatile of cheeses being served with a little more imagination than just a few slices of tomato and a drizzling of oil.
For mains, I chose from the specials menu which featured a good choice of fish dishes.
I chose monkfish wrapped in Parma ham in a cherry and tomato basil sauce (£21.95) The mild monkfish was given some oomph by the Parma ham, which was tightly wrapped around the fish to form a meat/fish hybrid parcel with a great contrast of flavours and a slight chew. To allow the more subtle nuances of the fish to shine, the sauce was a delicate cherry tomato and basil which brought out the slightly sweet flavour of the main ingredient. Bellissimo!
If you want to try the dish which wowed judges, Nello’s lamb with pistachio home-made ravioli and aubergine will be on the menu, and no doubt flying off it, soon.