Sounds cheesy, but the mozzarella starter at Angelo’s was one of the best I’ve had in Sunderland. (And I’ve eaten a lot of Sunderland starters.)
It sounded simple on paper: mozzarella is to Italian menus what butter is to bread.
But Angelo’s have taken this most humble of starters and injected it with a sense of theatre, as well as an extra depth of flavour.
The mozzarella burrata (£7.95), served with sliced tomatoes, grilled vegetables, basil pesto and rosemary focaccia, arrived in its own glass cloche which was swirling with smoke. With a sense of drama like one of those Paris restaurant scenes in a black and white film, our waiter lifted the glass to release the smokey aroma, so intense you could taste it.
Olfactory senses well and truly whetted it was on to the taste. The elastic creaminess of the cheese was complemented perfectly by the heavy smoked element. We’d chosen to share our starters and mains, tapas-style. Though I wish we hadn’t - I could have eaten that starter again, twice over.
We had other food, of course. As Angelo’s have picked up a number of awards at the English Italian awards in recent years, we decided to put one of their signature dishes to the test.
One of their competition dishes - a crispy pecorino cheese cannelloni stuffed with salted cod and served with three types of tomato, pesto, basil and aubergine crudites - was something a bit different to the usual pizza / pasta options available at run-of-the-mill Italian restaurants and was a playful blend of textures and flavours. No wonder it impressed the judging panel, which included TV chef Aldo Zilli no less.
With these guys being pasta masters, we also chose paccheri con melanzane burrata e basilico (£9.95), one of their many vegetarian options which can also be made gluten-free. The large tubes of pasta had that satisfying bite of al dente pasta and was so flavoursome it didn’t need gussying up. However, the accompanying aubergine, tomato, basil and burrata were light enough not to detract from the star of the show.
We also enjoyed a parma ham pizza (£9.95), when in Rome and all that, the base of which had the doughy centre and crisp edge you’d expect from any Italian restaurant worth its salt. They key to a good pizza is all about the base.
The restaurant’s decor is as smart as the food which, again, elevates it above your standard Italian eatery. It’s housed in a sympathetically-restored Grade-II listed building which still retains bags of period charm with high ceilings, original covings and a fireplace, the breast of which has been given a contemporary twist with feature wallpaper.
Price-wise, there’s certainly cheaper places out there, but a happy hour menu is more purse-pleasing.
It’s a restaurant that has a sense of occasion about it. Not that I need an excuse to come back, they had me at that cheese starter.