Mamma Italia: Stannington Grove, Sunderland

Mamma Italia, Stannington Grove, Sunderland.
Mamma Italia, Stannington Grove, Sunderland.
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A RECENT trip to Mamma Italia proved to be a mixed bag of a meal.

I’d heard much about this little Italian eaterie that, despite being part of The Ashbrooke pub, has a distinctive, charming atmosphere of its own.

Indeed, first impressions were great. We hadn’t booked on this Wednesday tea-time visit, but the cheery staff found us three ladies and a toddler a table next to the fireplace.

The lighting was dark and atmospheric and we felt more than welcome as we took our seat surrounded by a mixed group of satisfied-looking diners.

The menu was more vast than most other Italians in the city with dozens of dishes to choose from.

It boasted more than just the basic pizza and pasta choices with options such as pork fillet in apple and cider sauce (£9.50); spaghetti in squid, tiger prawns, clams, garlic, wine and tomato sauce (£8.20) and chicken fillet in prawns, mushrooms, paprika and cream sauce (£8.50).

The blackboard also contains daily fresh fish specials.

Dishes are even cheaper if you order during happy hour, which runs from Tuesday to Saturday from 5.30pm to 7pm, where you can pick up pizza and pastas for £4.90 and steak dishes for £9.50.

With three girls gossiping, a toddler driving his toy cars across the table and a lengthy menu to contend with, it took us an age to make our final choices.

However, the staff were patient and kept us stocked with drinks during our period of perusal.

To start, I went with an oldie but a goodie: parma ham and mozzarella.

For my £5.90 I was presented with a good-sized portion, which was well-presented with garnish and balsamic vinegar, which oozed flavour with every bite.

Cara and her little son, Tate, also enjoyed tucking into their shared starter of calamari (£4.90), while Jodie enjoyed the same lip-licking starter as I had.

Even though the restaurant was bustling, service was swift and attentive.

In fact, all was going well until my main meal – fettina alla pizzaiola (£10.90) – arrived.

To be fair, the meal was described as prime fillet steak flattened in a garlic, oregano and wine tomato sauce.

What I hadn’t bargained for was quite how garlicky it would be. It was so over powering that I could only manage a few mouthfuls and even after scraping the sauce off the meat, it still tasted potent.

Spotting my barely-touched meal, the staff offered to make me something else, but I didn’t want to still be eating after everyone had finished, so declined the offer.

Cara’s fettina Diana (£10.90) – fillet steak in onions, mushrooms, brandy and cream sauce – was more of a success. Though the sauce was rich, she mopped up every last bit with the vegetable accompaniment.

Tate’s kid’s portion of spaghetti and prawns was also tasty enough to tempt him away from his cars for 10 minutes.

Jodie, however, also didn’t finish her amalfitana pasta – tiger prawns, cherry tomato, garlic and chilli sauce (£8.90) – saying it was “too sloppy” for her liking.

We couldn’t be tempted by the dessert menu, but Cara’s sweet tooth kicked in and she ordered a tiramisu, which she described as beautifully rich and flavoursome.

All together with drinks, the bill was under £80 as the staff had offered to knock the cost of my main meal off.

Admittedly, I was somewhat disappointed by my debut Mamma Italia meal, but the service and setting was good enough to encourage me to try it again.

Katy Wheeler

Twitter: @sunechokaty