Andy Barnett feels so passionate about his city centre restaurant he put his name on it.
After a successful tenure running the restaurant above the Isis, building up a loyal following with his classic English dishes, Andy went out on his own and took over the former Raffles cafe in Frederick Street early last year to create Barnett’s.
Opening a city centre restaurant in Sunderland is a risky business: with owners having to battle with an unsteady stream of custom as well as parking problems, especially in this corner of town.
But, while others have come and gone in the area, Andy has done a stellar job of making this listed building, the home of Raffles for 25 years, his own – despite its inconspicuous appearance underneath a property firm, which may be an issue for those with mobility problems.
Don’t be fooled by its basement setting though: light pours through the period windows of the restaurant which has a homely charm you just don’t find in clinical chain places.
It’s got a menu to match with hearty fare such as Scotch egg (£4.95), belly pork (£11.95) and leek and potato pie (£7.95). This is not one for the weight watchers, but where’s the fun in going out to eat for a salad?
We visited on Mothering Sunday, meaning the place was bustling with large groups, with families being able to choose from the Sunday roast or a la carte menu.
Though the fluffy, proper Yorky puds, so big they almost toppled off the plates being whisked from the kitchen, certainly caught my eye I went for the variety of the a la carte.
With a much bigger kitchen to play in, the menu’s bigger than at the restaurant’s previous incarnation at Silksworth Row.
But the favourites, such as my starter of grilled black pudding topped with soft poached egg and peppercorn sauce (£4.95), are still there.
A plump disc of black pudding was topped with a perfectly-poached egg that oozed into submission with the lightest of touches. Black pudding can often be an overly-rich affair, all too often fried in way too much grease and plonked on a full English, but this one managed to pack a punch without busting a gut.
A light, yet flavoursome, peppercorn sauce added a kick to the proceedings without drowning out the main ingredients.
Next up – chicken and king prawns mains (£12.95). It comes as a tender butterfly chicken breast flanked by a trio of plump prawns encased in a creamy, garlic and white wine sauce, which was just the right side of rich.
I was stuffed, but people with sweet tooths will probably salivate over a brightly-lit fridge filled with temptation.
Despite this being one of the busiest Sundays of the year, staff seemed unflustered and managed to juggle the hungry families with ease at this hidden gem.