The Dun Cow must have one of the most underrated dining rooms in the city.
Few places can offer the Edwardian splendour of its former function room - and its grand views of the Empire and Minster - which was given new life as part of the painstaking restoration of the Grade II-listed building in 2014.
Much attention to detail was paid to preserving the fine features of this handsome watering hole - especially its nationally-celebrated intricate back bar in the pub - which became the first building to be given a sympathetic makeover as part of the emerging Cultural Quarter.
Blending history with an excellent choice of ales has proved popular with punters downstairs, but the upstairs restaurant has never quite taken off.
First there was Longhorns, who plaster boarded all over the original features and never quite gelled with their get-your-hands-dirty Texan steakhouse vibe; then there was The Chop House which seemed promising until the owner left, before a short-lived stint as The Grill Room.
Steaks houses simply didn’t work, it seems, but bringing back an Italian favourite may be the recipe for success.
Amore was once one of the city’s most popular restaurants at its birthplace in Tavistock Place and it’s been brought back for this new chapter at The Dun Cow. Not only is it good to see a familiar face back in the city, it also plugs the gap for a good Italian in stone’s throw of the Empire that was left by the departure of Amalfi’s over the road.
Thankfully, they’ve retained the period features of the room, enhanced by a heritage colour palette of deep reds and greens. They’ve also added some Amore trademarks such as black and white images of old school stars on the wall, which blend well, and they’ve also dimmed the lighting which makes for more of an atmosphere than in its previous guises. (However, due to the old nature of the building access is via a staircase, which is worth noting for those with mobility issues)
It was quiet on our visit, but it was a Thursday night in early January, a notoriously slow period in the hospitality industry. However, our cheery waitress said they’d enjoyed a healthy December with word getting around about Amore’s revival.
The menu of pizza, pastas, chicken, steak and fish will be familiar to anyone who enjoyed the original restaurant. Classic Italian dishes done well: that’s Amore.
I chose from the a la carte but there’s a really reasonable happy hour menu where you can pick up two courses for £6.95 if you visit early evening.
I had the gamberoni all’ aglio to start (£8.95) - five plump king prawns in a lustrous, yet subtle garlic and white wine sauce. Not so rich it suffocated the delicate flavour of the prawns, it was just right.
For mains I had the griglia fillet which at £20.95 is a fiver cheaper than the city’s chain steakhouse. Chips or veg is included but it was no problem to substitute them for a salad.
Buttery pink on the inside, the large hunk of meat was served with plenty of onions, mushrooms and roast tomatoes, which was again great added value.
We were also impressed with the wine menu which was more substantial than your average Italian restaurant in Sunderland, with prices by the glass starting from £3.50 and rising to £55 a bottle for Moët, with plenty of choice in between.
This may be the fourth restaurant at the pub in as many years, but maybe an Italian job will prove a Dun deal.