Diets often go out of the window when dining out.
Restaurants don’t help with their tempting rich sauces and oodles of carbohydrates all vying for your attention on the menu.
But this Sunderland venue is making a dinner out less of a calorie minefield with its ‘Skinnylicous’ menu, with main courses coming in at less than 500 calories.
And, no, it’s not all salads. You can still tuck into pizza, it just has less base – though that can often be the best bit – while the pastas have had calories shaved off with less sauce and more meat, fish and extra vegetables.
I was wondering if I’d still be tempted by the lure of a rich dish when we took our seats on a Sunday night. Aside from a couple of excited kids whipping up their own pizzas with staff in front of the pizza oven – a great service for those with rug rats – the Farmhouse was pretty quiet and was perfect for a Sunday evening wind down.
The family-friendly atmosphere is echoed in the decor which doffs its cap to a retro pantry, with hanging produce forming a canopy above diners’ heads and 1930s tiling. If it looks familiar it’s because it’s pretty similar to Jamie Oliver’s rustic chic approach at his chain of Italian restaurants.
Though, to be honest, I find the food here better than that at the cooking giant’s commercial joints which have sprung up on high streets across the country. The food’s got more of a home-made feel here thanks, in part, to the fact that much of the produce is sourced from farms on its doorstep.
The Skinnylicious choices blend in well with the rest of the Italian-themed menu, so much so you don’t feel like you’re denying yourself.
Starter options, which are all under 250 calories, include the ubiquitous grain of choice for clean eaters: a quinoa salad (£5.25) as well as avocado, tomato and mozzarella (£6.25) and air dried bresaola (£6.45).
I went with the latter, which was served as sliver upon sliver of moreish meat. The key to success for dishes like this is in the slicing and the aged beef had been cut to paper thin perfection. All too often restaurants drown and dazzle cured meat dishes with oils and vinegars, but the light dressing on this version allowed the subtle nuance of the air dried meat to shine. A few shavings of Parmesan – not enough to provide any real calorie hit – added some extra texture.
Main choices include salads, chicken and fish dishes, as well as pastas, such as skinny carbonara with linguini (£7.95).
I chose the grilled halloumi, quinoa and capers salad (£8.95). Yep, it’s cheese. On a low fat menu. But halloumi is a safer bet than some of its more calorific cheese cousins and you don’t need much to pack a punch flavour-wise.
Again the portion-size was decent (though I don’t think my iPhone camera skills do it justice), with the salty cheese and zing of the capers lifting it above your average flat salad. Quinoa can be a bland affair, but this one still retained its moisture and helped to pad out the salad without the bloating effect of rice or pasta.
I was full, but those with a sweet tooth needn’t miss out with puddings also being given a healthy twist.
For those adhering to set diets, staff have been trained as to the points and ‘syns’ contained in specific dishes for Weight Watchers and Slimming World diets.
It won’t make you ‘skinny’ in a day, but this is waistline watching made easy.