IN a city where Italian restaurants are ten-a-penny I was somewhat trepidatious about how another such place could compete for the pizza/pasta custom in Sunderland.
I needn’t have worried. Turns out, newest Italian kid on the block, Eataly, has a charm of its own – enough even to forgive its odd choice of name.
For starters, it’s got a lovely atmosphere. Dim, moody lighting and well-spaced-out tables makes it perfect for dates or girly gossip which you don’t want other diners to overhear.
The decor too, which is rustic meets contemporary, is charming enough and isn’t offensively fussy – I personally hate those faux neo-classical statues you get in some Italian restaurants.
Perhaps the restaurant’s biggest draw over some of its other contemporaries though is its price, which is best described as cheap as chips.
I visited with my Echo wife Cara, and her little boy Tate on a Saturday night. There was a gentle stream of custom, though Eataly wasn’t as bustling as its over-the-road neighbour Tosca.
The latter has been open for decades and has built up a faithful following. In comparison, Eataly’s been open for three months, but, judging by our visit, it shouldn’t take long to build a fan base of its own.
We were given a choice of seating and chose the one which would give Tate the most space to run around – he usually has a run around post-dinner.
During a quiet five minutes where Tate was pre-occupied with some toy farm animals, we checked out the menu.
It’s simple, but it does the trick. There’s a good range of cold and hot starters on the Happy Hour menu, which didn’t appear to have a time limit, ranging from as little as £2.50.
I chose from the house specialities menu, which was a little pricier, and had the warm mozzarella in Parma ham. (£5.95)
Granted, this is a dish that’s difficult to get wrong, but it didn’t take away from the fact my starter was divine. A delicious dressing in particular helped it to stand out from the norm.
Cara too enjoyed her calamari with garlic mayonnaise (£4.50). Again, it’s a staple dish, but it was less greasy than in many other restaurants and was served as a hearty portion.
Sticking with the Parma ham theme, I chose the Parma pizza. It was a whopper and was loaded with lashings of parmesan, rocket and parma – definitely worth the £7.95 price tag.
Cara’s calzone (£5.95) was also huge and was complemented by a tasty dip to help wash the crusts down.
Our meals were cheap, but little man Tate’s was the best bargain of all. His child’s portion of spaghetti bolognese was only £1. Though he seemed to plunge his animals into his meal more than he ate, his meal was a more than generous portion.
For other diners with little legs in tow, this is definitely a place I’d recommend.
The staff were lovely with Tate, giving him little treats and amusing him when he decided to take a walk around the restaurant.
The icing on the cake was the bill which, with wine, came to £36.15 – the cheapest meal we’ve had for three in a long while.