AS the old adage goes: the early bird catches the worm - or the bargain grub in this case.
I’ve only eaten from the a la carte menu on previous visits to D’acqua – and jolly nice it is too – but a pre-theatre booking meant we were able to take advantage of the early bird menu.
It runs from 11am to 2pm and 5.30pm to 6.45pm Monday to Saturday and offers a cheap as chips menu deal of one course for £9, two for £11 or three for £13.
However you aren’t just limited to chips, and other cheaper meals, with this version of a happy hour.
Starter options range from pâté to posh beans on toast (made with canneloni beans instead of Heinz). Meanwhile, mains are a blend of North East classics such as panackelty and brisket made with locally-brewed Double Maxim ales, as well as stodgy winter warmers such as gnocchi.
The nods to local foods are a great touch and a reminder that this is very much an independent restaurant with a Sunderland flavour.
Even the name hints back to the building’s former guise as the Sunderland and South Shields water company building.
Step below street level into the basement restaurant, and the fluid theme continues with water features peppered throughout.
It’s not too fussy though: the decor is crisp and clean with splashes of signature colour purple and a hint of exposed brick-work.
Back to the food, I ordered the goat’s cheese salad. It arrived promptly, perfect if you have to make curtain up after your meal, and was prettily presented. However, it just wasn’t to my taste, bit too heavy on onion for me. It happens: we all have different palates. It’s how a restaurant deals with a complaint that counts.
After a couple of forkfuls, I alerted the waiter to my dish dilemma and he dealt with it perfectly, without making a fuss.
Just a few minutes later, my starter substitute, a prawn cocktail, which was light in texture and heavy in taste, was winging its way to the table.
For mains, we both chose from the sizzler section, which includes choices of chicken, mixed chicken and beef, fish, beef and halloumi.
We heard our mains before we saw them as they emerged piping hot from the kitchen, hissing away on a metal plate. I got plenty of slabs of salty halloumi for my pennies, a cheese that’s always best served hot.
Your sizzler is served with seasonal vegetables, so it’s perfectly filling without being heavy.
The best was yet to come though: the puddings were a delicious dénouement.
I’m not usually a sweet tooth kinda girl, but after eying up other diners’ sweet treats we decided to choose a pudding each to share between us.
Presentation of our cheesecake and lemon posset was picture perfect. The former arrived on one of those trendy slates and was a towering triumph of a crumbly biscuit base topped with a Nutella mascarpone layer, a Bailey’s mascarpone layer, a crispy Malteser topping and artistically drizzled with white chocolate.
The mascarpone layers were melt in the mouth good, irresistibly moreish. I was loathe to share it with my mate, but a deal’s a deal.
In keeping with the history of the dish – a posset was once served as a rich, hot drink – this pud was served in a glass. Lighter than the cheesecake, it still packed a punch flavour-wise and the zest of the lemon was complemented beautifully by a buttery pistachio shortbread.
Like a good book, D’acqua had a good start, a fulfilling middle and a cracker of an ending.