As any pizza fan will know, when you spot a pizza oven at a restaurant you know you’re probably in for a good time.
Nothing beats the base of a stone baked pizza: done right it’s what holds the flavours together of this Italian staple. So Fratello’s, with its gleaming pizza oven in full view, already ticked a box for me as soon as I took a pew at its Jesmond branch.
I’m not always a fan of restaurants in chain hotels, they’re more often than not a bland and forgettable dining experience.
With this one, however, it’s pretty easy to forget it’s part of a Holiday Inn – and you certainly don’t have to be a hotel guest to dine there.
That’s helped in part by the slick decor: a blend of clean lines, exposed stone walls, lighting on industrial chic chains and black and white images of the Old Country. It’s a theme that’s repeated in this North East chain, which also has branches at Newcastle Airport’s Double Tree by Hilton and Scotch Corner.
The fact that this one is away from the hullaballoo of Newcastle city centre and the student-heavy Osborne Road in Jesmond also makes it more family-friendly than most.
It’s a more modern take on an Italian eaterie – there’s not a makeshift Chianti bottle candleholder in sight – but the menu’s the classic fare you’d expect from a restaurant of this ilk. Pizza, pastas, fish and meat options, you get the picture.
I started with an oldie but a goodie: the caprese salad (£6.95). It’s difficult to get this simple starter of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil wrong: the basic ingredients have enough of their flavour to hold their own without being faffed about with. But this version was elevated with smart presentation, atop one of those trendy slate tiles.
There’s a good choice of pizzas, including some more unusual options such as a Caesar pizza, which are made from scratch in that eye-catching pizza oven, with prices starting from £8.25.
There’s a so-called healthier option available too, but it’s basically just half the pizza.
I felt I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and ordered a whole margherita, with ham and mushroom added.
We could see the chef hand-stretching the dough from our seats, and he certainly hit the spot.
The base had just the right amount of bite whilst still being easy to tear apart.
It came topped with plenty of fresh ingredients such as wafer thin Parma ham and sprigs of basil.
Sides came in the form of a huge mound of Cajun sweet potato fries (£2.95), which had a satisfying crunch and were so generous a portion we struggled to shoe-horn them in.
The drinks menu is also better than your average Italian’s with a regularly changing choice of Italian beers, as well as a large range of red and white wines from across the globe to wash down that pizza.