The loyal readers among you may have noticed that the website has taken a little bit of a back-seat recently, mainly whilst I got cracking at my new job at digital marketing agency Silverbean, so please accept my apologies for the silence. Luckily, there’s a whole load of new reviews and content to share with you lucky readers, kicking off with this one, and our review of Browns Newcastle by the brilliant Leigh Venus.
We often fall into a trap over at Scran Towers, where perfectly decent restaurants outside of the City centre are neglected, purely because proprietors take the word “Tyne” quite literally. Last week, sisters Roya and Rosa of Sorella Sorella, contacted us to request our attendance at their family-run Sunniside eaterie, specialising in “fresh Italian food made with authentic ingredients and locally-sourced produce of the finest quality”. Sounds good to me. Sunniside is just over 5 miles from Newcastle city centre, near to the Metro Centre, and in all honesty, there’s not a lot going on aside from the odd village pub or row of neat houses. It’s a nice place, but hardly somewhere you’d expect to find a sensational Italian restaurant. How wrong I was…
The restaurant is situated on the “main road”, aka Streetgate, after taking over the premises of what was the ‘Rose, Shamrock and Thistle’ pub. The venue is unrecognisable, with not even a hint of “rushed pub renovation” about it. The girls have finished it exquisitely, with imported Italian imagery, Panattone tins dotted around, custom wall murals, a Vespa and overall an air of 1950′s Italia. They’ve done a wonderful job of restoring the old pub furniture to it’s former glory, while adding a pop of colour throughout, and Roya explained that they’d done a lot of the work themselves, including sourcing original pieces like chandeliers and an enormous mirror that takes pride of place on the back wall.
The girls come from restaurant-running stock, with their parents previously owning Sale Pepe in Jesmond, while still at the helm of the Shotley Bridge establishment, both well-regarded authentic Italian restaurants in the region. They took an enormous risk by quitting their jobs to open Sorella Sorella, which has been open almost 2 years, but honestly, you’d think they’d been open for years.
I visited, along with my number 1 plus 1, my Mother, last Thursday evening at 8pm. The restaurant was surprisingly (again, I wasn’t expecting this from Sunniside but I’m not sure why) very busy and there was a great buzz around the place. Rosa greeted us before an impeccably polite waiter took us to our table and got us set up with drinks. We opted for a bottle of the Italian Sauvignon Blanc, which was modestly priced (in restaurant terms anyway) at £16.95 while we perused the expansive menu and seriously, I wanted everything, such is the danger of heading out for dinner at 8pm.
After reigning ourselves in a little, we made our selections. A half and half tomato/cheese garlic bread (top points for doing half and half!) at £3.25 to share, along with Queen Scallops served with a butternut squash and parmesan purée (£7.45) for me, and the Crab and Chilli Crostini (£5.45) for the Mothership. My starter was stunning, with PLENTY of scallops and a good dollop of squash and parmesan purée, which had a surprising chilli after-kick. It was piping hot too, which I often find is a rarity when eating out these days, although I’m not sure why. My Mum’s starter was delicious, with a big chunk of crostini (perhaps too large, considering we’d gone for the garlic bread too, but that’ll teach us…) topped with loads of crab meat, again,
with a decent level of heat from the chilli running through it, all served alongside a fresh Italian salad and some fresh red chillies on top. For me, a wedge of lemon would have been a welcome addition, but given that it had all vanished from her plate within around 6 minutes, I don’t think my Mum minded particularly.
The main course menu is the challenge because it genuinely took me around 20 minutes to decide what to go for. As you’d expect, like most Italian restaurants, it’s separated under the usual headings (Pizza/Pasta/Risotto/Pesce – Fish and Carne – Meat) with prices spanning from around £7.50 for some of the more basic pasta/pizza dishes, to £19.95 for the fillet steak, which is extremely reasonable. I’m usually the first to order steak, however I fancied testing how well Sorella Sorella flex their “authentic” muscle, so went for the Arrabiatta, with added Italian sausage.
What’s great about their Arrabiatta option is that when asked how hot I’d like it, I was shown the Sorella Sorella “chilli-o-meter”, showing the range of heat they can pack into your pasta dish. I went for “Hot”, as there’s a part of me that always underestimates how hot restaurants will actually consider to be hot. I needn’t have done because it was HOT and surprisingly, there are still two hotter options above what I’d selected. God only knows what kind of maniacs go for those. The spaghetti was cooked al dente and there was plenty of deliciously vibrant Arabiatta sauce. They weren’t shy with the Italian sausage either and sadly, around half way through, I was struggling. Again, it was piping hot and every element tasted incredibly fresh. I’m now wishing I’d asked for a doggie bag because I’ve been thinking about that Italian sausage for days afterwards. Ahem.
My mum chose the Fish Stew (£14.95), which we were told was extremely popular with diners and now we know why. Jam-packed full with enormous prawns, calamari, haddock, salmon, mussels, squid and clams in a rich tomato sauce, there was plenty of garlic, chilli and fresh oregano throughout and if we hadn’t had so much bread already, I would have been asking for a side plate so I could nab some of the gorgeous sauce. The mussels were also massive and there were no duds in the entire bowl, the prawns were deliciously fresh and the whole dish was a perfect concoction of fresh fish, tomatoes and a perfect level of seasoning. For just under 15 quid, you certainly get your money’s worth in fish and again, shamefully, it couldn’t be finished, as hard as my Mum tried to see to it. I would wholeheartedly order this next time I visit, if I manage to restrain myself from ordering the fillet steak.
I’m not normally one for desserts, and after toying with the idea of their Tiramisu with Biscotti (£4.95), my favourite dessert, I went for the Special Summer Dessert, which was a Raspberry, Lemon and Mint semi-freddo served with a raspberry sauce, also £4.95; pretty much the standard price across the dessert menu. This seemed like the lighter option and luckily, I was right. The semi-freddo was zesty and topped with a lemon and mint jelly type creation and the raspberry coulis surrounding the thing was frankly, amazing. It was raspberry to the extreme and the perfect companion to the more toned-down flavours in the semi-freddo. I could have seen to way more of the sauce simply poured over some Beckleberry’s vanilla ice cream (one for next time, perhaps!) as it was just so damn tasty. Bellies extremely full, but happy, we were done.
Their skilled and creative Head Chef, 26 year old Alan Barker, has been with the restaurant since its inception, after previously spending 5 years at Marco Polo in central Newcastle. I’m told he’s had a big hand in developing the menu and the restaurant’s reputation to what it is today, through his enthusiasm for fresh and authentic Italian cooking. While he’s a relatively young Head Chef, his cooking surpasses his years by a mile and for me, the food we ate last Thursday blew a lot of the “go-to” Italian restaurants out of the water. Everything put down in front of us was plentiful, well-presented but above all, bursting with flavour, at an extremely reasonable price. I now understand why the restaurant was bustling with happy diners on a mid-month Thursday evening, there is plenty to enjoy here and I surmise that they’ve got quite the legion of loyal followers as a result. Additionally, the service was outstanding throughout and our waiter (unfortunately I didn’t catch his name) was attentive and full of suggestions.
I also really like how it’s a family-run restaurant, from a family with plenty of experience in Italian hospitality. Sorella Sorella feels like the new generation of Italian dining in the region, with tasteful and on-trend décor, not to mention their vibrant menu that caters to all tastes and requirements, including crucially, gluten-free. The menu highlights the gluten-free and vegetarian options, of which there are plenty, and Roya assured me that if a patron would particularly like something on the menu as a gluten-free or veggie option, the Chef can usually accommodate. Flexible but refined eating, what’s not to love?
It’s safe to say that I’ll be making the trip back to Sorella Sorella very soon. It’s perfect for a dinner for two and from what I witnessed, they can cater to larger groups with finesse too. There’s a more purse-friendly lunch/early evening menu, served Monday to Thursday 12-pm to 7pm and Friday and Saturday between 12pm and 6pm, with two courses for only £8.95. While the menu is understandably limited for this offer, there are some delicious options available and if they’re executed with the same passion and flair as what they’re serving up on the main menu, you’ll be onto a winner.
Sorella Sorella, Streetgate, Sunniside, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE16 5LE. Call 0191 488 2000 to book, or visit their website for more information and to make an online booking.
Scran on the Tyne would like to thank Roya and Rosa for inviting us to the restaurant on a complimentary basis and readers should be assured that this is a fair representation of what we ate and experienced on our visit.