The key to a good pizza? It’s all about the base.
So when I heard the city’s newest restaurant made its own, I was keen to get a pizza the action.
Divino Pizzeria, which has opened in the former Cafe Roco on Burdon Road, is Sunderland’s only pizzeria and it’s certainly one for the pizza purists.
During the day it offers cakes, salads, pastas and pizza slices to eat in or takeaway, but its evening menu is dedicated to Italy’s national dish, with no less than 25 choices.
Interior-wise, there’s not been too many drastic changes from the venue’s former guise, but then Cafe Roco was always one of the city’s prettier cafes. Plus, the neutral palette adds to the laid back, informal atmosphere you’d expect from a pizza place.
It’s a capacious site, and there was a large group of around a dozen diners tucking into home-made pizza when we took our seats.
The smell of dough fills the air too, just to make sure your appetite is well and truly whetted.
Before you get to the star of the show, there’s a large range of starters, garlic breads and bruschettas to get you in the Italian mood.
We chose a halloumi salad (£4.50) and antipasto (£9.95 for two people) to share between three of us.
The latter was a veritable smorgasbord of Italian treats, a huge round of Italian sausage, sun-dried tomato, mozzarella, cured meats, chorizo, olives and more.
It was a kaleidoscope of tastebud ticklers that we delighted in demolishing, with more than enough for three people.
Next up, the pièce de résistance: proper pizza.
Choices range from the classics, such as the ubiquitous margarita (£6.50) and ham and pineapple (£7.25), to more unusual toppings that you wouldn’t get in a neon-lit pizza shop such as anchovies, olives, capers and roasted garlic (£7.25) and smoked salmon, cream cheese and red onion (£7.50).
I chose one of the white options, which is pizza minus the tomato.
I wasn’t quite sure how the carbonara, another of Italy’s great dishes, would translate as a pizza, but it proved to be a match made in carbohydrate heaven.
All the classic carbonara ingredients you’d expect were there: mozzarella, pancetta, Parmesan, black pepper and even egg. But the stodge of pasta was replaced with a thin pizza base.
One of the head chefs here is an Italian who honed his pizza skills in Naples, which is practically the motherland for pizza chefs.
After hearing about his credentials, I was expecting great things, and I wasn’t disappointed.
He hand makes each base the day before to allow it to settle and develop its flavour before toppings are added. The result is far removed from the clinical round of soggy deep dish takeaway pizza pies. The base was delightfully misshapen, soft and pliable in the centre, with more bite around the edge.
Did I miss the tomato? Did I heck. The base, like a good pasta, had enough of its own flavour to be devoured on its own. The toppings merely complemented the base rather than being so thick they stole the show.
Egg on a pizza was a first for me, but they weren’t as greasy as I expected and certainly helped to give the essence of carbonara.
The pizzas are served on a thick wooden slab with your own pizza cutter, but if you like your slices less precise no one’s going to object if you tear into it with gusto.
Though the pizzas are reasonably priced, you can shave more off the bill by taking advantage of a happy hour menu which runs Monday to Friday from 5pm to 6pm and an early evening specials menu, which offers three courses for £11.50.
The Italian flavour flows into the drinks menu with options such as bottled Peroni (£3.10) and Prosecco, priced from £5.50 for a small bottle.
Though pizza shops are two a penny in the city centre, proper home-made pizza dough is just what we kneaded.