REVIEW: Tosca, Derwent Street, Sunderland

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ITALIAN restaurants are the bread and butter of Sunderland’s restaurant trade – there are probably more of them than any other type of eatery in the city.

Many of them, like Tosca, have become stalwarts of the city centre’s – albeit not always bustling – evening trade.

Its shop neighbours in Derwent Street have come and gone over the years. But Tosca, or Toscanini as it once was, is still going strong 25 years after opening – with good reason.

It’s a cosy restaurant, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for by packing as much charm into its rafters as possible.

The theme is rustic with trinkets from the ‘old country’ peppered about the place while low-lit lighting helps to create an air of romance.

An Italian family owns and runs the restaurant, the proof of which is in the pudding. Well, not just the pudding. The whole menu is a large feast of Italian classics.

We visited during happy hour, which still boasts a hearty host of choices to get your mouth watering.

I chose the mini mezze to start (£4.65). It’s a cute dish: a pint-sized platter of parma ham, houmous, olives and bread with a mini tagine of richly-delicious tapenade. It was a delight to pick my way through.

My friend chose the fishcakes: two good-sized mounds which were plump with salmon and prawn on a bed of salad and lemon mayonnaise (£4.65). The dish was only 30p cheaper than it is on the A La Carte menu, but we weren’t complaining, this was Italian food just like mamma makes.

For mains, I went for the ‘linguine mare’. Despite it being a relatively cheap seafood dish at £7.45, I received a large pile of fresh pasta punctuated with plenty of mussels, prawn, squid and clams.

I’m not a fan of overly creamy sauces and had asked the waitress for a more tomato-based number.

The kitchen seemed more than happy to oblige and the lighter version they’d knocked up for me allowed the lighter nuances of the seafood to shine.

I noticed that gluten-free pasta is also available on request, an unusual, but refreshing touch.

Just one of the many reasons Tosca comes up trumps.