30th April 2013
Anyone for pepperoni tail - we found ourselves saying as we shared our leftovers from The Ropery with the office. The dinosaur-shaped cheese and tomato pizza, complete with meaty tail, was the cherry on top of our meal which was such good value for money we struggled to clear our plates.
For the past couple of months I’ve been moonlighting at Sun FM in the wee hours of the morning before I head off to Echo Towers for my day shift. The station’s hosting a discount dining offer - in which you buy a voucher worth £40 for £20 - at restaurants across the area and I was invited along by Breakfast Show host Simon Grundy to find out what bargain hunters can get for their money.
I’ve eaten at The Ropery many times during its restaurant’s various incarnations - but this has to be one of the best. Nowadays they’re specialising in stone-baked pizzas. The price remains the same - £5.95 each - but the choice of toppings is vast from the novelty dino-shaped pizza for kids, which is cheaper than the norm at £3.95, to the chicken bang bang which features an unusual combination of chicken, peanut butter and tobasco.
The starters, meanwhile, feature basic favourites such as garlic breads, nachos and potato skins.
Simon tucked into a tomato garlic bread for £3.45 to start while I worked my way through a huge bowl of mixed olives for just £1.95.
If I hadn’t been with Simon it would have felt quite romantic with the cosy booths, rustic decor, roaring open fire and views overlooking the River Wear. Indeed, it’s easy to forget what a great location The Ropery has, not only for food, but for the many live bands who belt out tunes on its stage.
As we moved onto the main course, I wasn’t feeling brave enough for the bang bang so opted for the seafood option. Soon after ordering I was presented with a perfect base - crispy yet light - laden with mussels, squid and prawns. Eyes bigger than my belly, I ordered a green salad as an accompaniment but portion size was so big I couldn’t manage both. Simon was impressed with his choice too. In between regaling me with football talk, he found the time to order from the non-pizza section of the menu which features a range of pasta and rice options. The vast majority come in at the £5.95 mark and are Italian-inspired. For meat-lovers, there’s also a carvery choice and Sunday dinners which run from noon until 9pm for £6.95. Portion-size was spot on with Simon’s carbonara and it wasn’t so rich that it drowned out any flavour - a pet hate.
Neither of us could shoe-horn in a dessert but there’s a range of calorific treats for sweet tooths including hot chocolate fudge cake and house waffles, all priced £3.95. Staff were more than happy to box up our leftovers and untouched dino pizza. With drinks, our bill came to £36. If only we’d had enough room in our bellies to squeeze the remaining £4 out of our voucher.
Posted by Simon at 4:14pm
26th April 2013
We picked a good day to try the food at The Floaters Mill in Woodstone Village, Houghton-le-Spring as it was Saint George’s Day; perfect for the kind of food they serve which is mainly good honest British fayre.
We were met by Jo, who we discovered is the partner of the Manager, who’s the son of the owner. Are you following? It was great to see a good old fashioned family run business. They had decorated their establishment to reflect that is was Saint George’s Day too with flags and bunting everywhere, and even had a few ‘Specials’ on their menu for that day showing how versatile the chefs are, but also showing their attention to detail and the fact that they wanted to reflect this special day for locals and regulars, as well as newbies, like us. We were very impressed.
In the restaurant, that spills out into a modern conservatory on the back, where ‘Specials’ boards and posters telling us forthcoming events, such as their Family Fun Day on 6th May for the Bank Holiday Monday. They’ve got a huge outdoor playground for the kids, massive decked area too with an outside kitchen and BBQ for the good summer weather. You get the impression that the Floaters Mill is the centre of the community, as many pubs used to be, and great to see that this tradition is alive and well here. More blackboards were promoting their Steak Night every Thursday which costs just £19.95 for 2 including a bottle of wine to share, Afternoon Tea is also served Monday - Saturday from 1-6pm and they have a very popular Carver every Sunday for just £6.95 with a choice of 5 meats and a £2 discount for the kids. Our eyes were drawn to the daily ‘Specials’ board which were all £5.95 for a main course, although just £10 if you ordered 2.
We took our seats in the conservatory part of the restaurant with great views across the decking and down to the stream at the bottom of the garden. We noticed that the flowers on the table were real, plus a candle had already been lit. There was also a little notice advertising free Wi-Fi if, like us, you like to conserve your 3G data on your phone:-/
The Manager, Adam, explained that they also have feature menus that complement their usual British menus for a month at a time. They’ve had Italian, Spanish and this month is Mexican. This, we thought, was a great idea especially to give the local regulars a different choice every month. Armed with this new information, I ordered the ‘Mexican Sizzler’ and my guest ordered Fish ‘n’ Chips. He also recommended that we had a special, for one day only, ‘Ploughman’s Starter’ which included gammon and chicken pie and pork and black pudding pie, both homemade and both delicious. When the main courses arrived, the cod was huge and the Mexican Sizzler certainly was sizzling as it approached the table; a mixture of chicken strips and peppers in a spicy sauce. Both were wonderful.
When our food had settled, we, again, went for a recommendation from Adam, a desert platter so we could try a few different things. The apple pie and sticky toffee pudding covered in custard was to die for followed by their signature ‘Four Cheese’ cheeseboard.
We really enjoyed our evening with Adam and Jo, and you will too if you take advantage of this great Discount Dining offer. Our bill came to £35.65 for a large glass of wine each and 4 courses. Unbelievable value, but remember, the voucher entitles you to receive £40 worth of food and drink, which only costs £20; that’s £10 each for everything we had. Don’t miss out!
Posted by Simon at 5:13pm
25th April 2013
So my new job of restaurant critic continues (I'm really enjoying it by the way).
Myself and Katie McClements went to the Tavistock Italia, which is a lovely restaurant part of the Roker Hotel. On arrival we were met by the manager Federicco who showed us to our table and he went through the menu with us pointing out his favourites which included their slow cooked dishes, which are slow cooked for 24 hours, you don't have to wait 24 hours they are already done!! We were also treated to some complementary foccacia which was done in a real Italian style...it was gorgeous, really doughy which was different and topped the chopped tomato and onion with parmesan shavings.
After looking through the menu and struggling to pick what we were going to get, because there were so many that I wanted to try, I settled on a starter of strips of beef with garlic sauce topped with rocket and parmesan shavings (£5.95) and Katie had Calamari Fritti, battred in salt and pepper with a spicy tomato sauce (£5.95). My beef was cooked to perfection with a sauce which wasn't too over powering and the rocket salad really complimented it.
Moving onto our main course I had pasta, I always like to get pasta in a proper Italian restaurant, I went for Tagliatelle con Salsicce (£9.45), which was pasta with boar sausage, chirizo sausage and roasted garlic in a tomato sauce. Katie had Spliendi di Pesce (£14.95), King prawns and king scallop skewer with grilled peppers and red onion on a bed of tomato and basil salsa. I did attempt to say the name of the dish, but failed miserably. The pasta was cooked perfectly and it was nice to have the two types of sausage mixed through it, and the boar sausage did seem more meaty than normal sausage, it was really good.
I was stuffed after my meal and really wanted a dessert after looking through the menu but decided I wouldn't finish one, Katie couldn't resist, but I think didn't want to eat alone so asked for her dessert to be take away, which they were more than happy to do. Katie got a traditional Tiramisu which was thick cream with coffe and sponge at the bottom.
The Tavistock Italia is a great little place, it has quirky decoration with a mish mash of lamp shades and pictures and feels very homely. There are various 'knick knacks' around the restaurant but it still manages to be stylish which I think is a very clever touch. The menu is very impressive and they have various offers on at different times during the week which makes it very affordable for the quality of food on offer. I think the fact that the manager is italian and passionate about the food really comes through too.
Posted by Mark at 3:35pm
22nd April 2013
Liberty Brown is ideally situated for me when I finish work, just on the Hylton Retail park, and I could probably walk from our studios to it, I didn't...I took the car, who wants to walk when they've had a big meal?? Myself and Mike were met by Helen who showed us to our table, which was one of their large booths. I liked this as it not only was comfy but plenty of room between us and the table next to us. There is nothing worse when you feel squashed in and can't relax because you are aware the next table is right on you.The whole restaurant has a very relaxed and comfortable feel to it.
We were given enough time to order while we had some drinks, before Jess came over. The menu is extensive with a choice of mains and starters, everything from pizza and pasta to grills and foods from around the world. I started with a goats cheese salad (I know very healthy!) and Mike had potato skins. The salad was gorgeous, it was so much more than just a bit of lettuce and cheese. It has sundried tomotoes, olives, goats cheese various salad leaves all tossed in a dressing. It was a decent portion as well, something that I would definetlry have again.
After a short wait, we were brought our main dishes. I had plumped for a burger and Mike had slow cooked sausage bolognaise, both were a big portion of food. My burger inparticular was massive, my first thought was I woule never be able to take a bite. It arrived on a long plate stacked high with salad, the burger, cheese and three huge onion rings. It was so big it need a wooden steak to hold it all together...ok, maybe more a long stick, but still HUGE!! I did have to take the onion rings out to be able to take a bite, but it was still a big burger, accompanied by fries and a salsa. The burger was really meaty and I thought I might not finish it...I did :)
After a little look over the sweet menu, we decided that we couldn't resist and Mike ordered a chocolate fudge cake and I went for the white chocolate and raspery cheesecake. I'm a bit of a sucker for a good cheescake and this was one of the best I've tasted. It was very creamy with a lovely bite from the raspberry.
We couldn't fault our experience at Liberty Brown's from the moment we walked in the staff were very friendly and made us feel comfortable. The restaurant is light and airy and well decorated with a menu which has a wide choice of dishes to suit everyones tastes.
Posted by Mark at 4:09pm
19th April 2013
My new part-time job as restaurant critic(!) began recently, with a trip to award-winning Sunderland eatery ‘Liberty Brown Pizza House, Bar & Grill’ in the company of Mark Black, Sun FM’s ‘Man at Lunchtime’. As it happens, it really wasn’t a very long trip; Liberty Brown is a stone’s throw away from Sun FM’s studios on the Enterprise Park, in a nice spot just off Timber Beach Road near the banks of the River Wear. There’s also a large car park, so you certainly won’t struggle to find a place.
We were given a warm welcome by Helen, who swiftly whisked us through to a large circular table in a comfy booth next to the window. Helen would alternate with the equally friendly Jess, who both went out of their way to make sure we didn’t want for anything, even as the restaurant got steadily busier.
My starter was ‘Potato Skins with Garlic Mayonnaise and Sweet Chilli Dip’. I’ve always thought potato skins were a clever trick; more substantial than chips (although they’re in many ways the same thing), and so much naughtier! They were just the way I like them, deeply tasty, soft in the middle and crispy at the edges, complete with two of my favourite condiments. The garlic mayo in particular was a big win, thick and creamy and not too heavy on the garlic. They didn’t skimp on the portions either, so the potato skins might make for an ideal shared starter if you don’t want to risk filling up too early and spoiling the main event.
So, onward to the main course; thankfully I’d not eaten much, knowing I would be obliged to have three courses (what an awful task, eh?!), so there was still plenty of room. I always convince myself that any dish that doesn’t come with chips must be healthy, so I opted for something pasta-based, namely the ‘Slow Cooked Bolognese’, which is made with Toulouse sausage (French sausage made with pork, smoked bacon, wine and garlic) and penne pasta (I’m sure you know, but that’s the tube-shaped type!). The pasta was lovely and soft, and the meat component has to be among the tastiest I’ve ever had with any pasta dish, and I’ve had my share of those over the years (including during a few holidays to Italy!). As with the starter, there was a good amount, but not quite enough to prevent me from finding room for something sweet…obviously.
I’m afflicted with a not-so-rare condition that means any dessert I have has to include some sort of chocolate element, so I went for the ‘Chocolate Fudge Cake’. The generously-proportioned slice of cake was firm and moist, with an equally generous helping of delicious chocolate sauce and just the right amount of ice cream (I’d always choose that over whipped cream to complement chocolate fudge cake).
I may have failed in my attempt at being a restaurant critic by not sampling any of the drinks on the menu, but I had a raging thirst and the only thing that can slake a raging thirst for me is tap water with lots of ice. However, I can report the tap water was of an excellent vintage, the ice was just the right temperature and the slice of lemon was a world beater. I’m trying too hard now aren’t I?!
Posted by Mike at 4:12pm
19th April 2013
On arrival at Pranzare in Concord, Washington, we were met by the owner, Giuseppe, who welcomed us with a cheery smile, as I’m sure he does every customer, as we had yet to introduce ourselves. We had the choice of any table we wanted, although, to be honest, we were quite surprised to see how busy it was, so there wasn’t much choice. We went on a Tuesday night, and the restaurant was very busy; we would find out why a little later.
We chose to sit near the kitchen so we could be as close as possible to the lovely smells that were wafting across the restaurant, each time the door opened as staff were busy ferrying the beautifully cooked freshly made Italian food.
We were offered the drinks menu when we sat down, we opted for a glass of house wine as we perused the extensive menu. As you would expect, it had every pasta and pizza you can think of that a successful Italian restaurant would have, plus many meat and fish dishes.
After serving the wine we were given about 15 minutes to choose our food, and following the explanation of the specials on the blackboards on the restaurant walls, we both chose from them. I had the Mixed Seafood Sauté which was like a thin soup with a menagerie of fish and shellfish for £7.50 and Stephen had 4 large meat-stuffed mushrooms which was called Funghi Diavola for £3.95. We tried each other’s and both were delicious.
For our main course we had, again from the Specials, Risotto Carne for £8.95; fluffy risotto rise and a selection of red meats, including chorizo. Stephen had Seabass Cartoccio and chips for £13.95. The seabass was steamed in tin foil with white wine and was beautifully cooked to perfection by the Head Chef, Michaele.
After about half an hour to let our food settle, we really didn’t think we could manage anything else, but we had deserts that Giuseppe, the Sicilian owner, recommended, as they were made on the premises that very day. I had Torta Della Nonna, which is a lemon cheesecake and Stephen had Cheesecake Monterosa, made the proper Italian way; a sponge base, rather than biscuit base. Both were only £3.95.
Pranzare is a gem of a restaurant. If you buy one of our vouchers for £20 you could push the boat out and try something special instead of a pizza, as good as they looked, as your £40 will go a long way.
All the prices above are the normal price, but half them if you use one of our vouchers J
Thanks to all the staff that made us welcome. They couldn’t have been more attentive to all the tables the night we went in, I’m sure they’re just the same with everyone who goes through their door. It was great to meet Michaele a true Italian chef who knows how to cook his Motherland’s food to perfection, to waiter Charles, and owner Giuseppe and everyone else we met.
Posted by Simon at 3:55pm