MEAL REVIEW: Insieme Italian Restaurant, Seahouses

Capesante (seared scallops and black pudding) starter at Insieme Italian restaurant in Seahouses.
Capesante (seared scallops and black pudding) starter at Insieme Italian restaurant in Seahouses.

Seahouses is gradually becoming a somewhat unlikely hub of continental dining.

The popular seaside resort has long been a magnet for fish and chip restaurants, typical British pub grub and cafés.

Gamberoni all'Aglio (garlic king prawns) starter

Gamberoni all'Aglio (garlic king prawns) starter

But the latest trend seems to be more towards foreign flavours, with a couple of Italian eateries, a couple serving Indian cuisine and a Chinese takeaway, among almost 20 food outlets – quite remarkable, really.

The most recent addition to the foreign flavours has been Insieme, an Italian restaurant tucked away behind the main shop fronts at the top of Main Street – behind, in fact, another of those eateries, the Spice House.

Italian fare is a particular favourite in our household – the anglicised versions of pizza and pasta bolognese probably to blame.

And so it was that on our midweek trip to Seahouses we were joined by our son, on a welcome break from A-Level revision and tempted by the genuine Mediterranean flavours.

Polpettoni (meat balls in garlic and tomato sauce) starter

Polpettoni (meat balls in garlic and tomato sauce) starter

We drew up in the main car park and walked round to Main Street before realising that the restaurant actually backs onto the car park.

It’s a Tardis of a venue – modest from the outside but surprisingly cavernous inside.

There were only half-a-dozen of the many tables occupied by the time we were settled into our meal, but when the holiday rush starts, I am told it is wise to book.

The decor is pleasant, modern and functional. Wooden-style parquet flooring sets the tone for a clean, fresh and comfortable setting.

Penne Insieme (smoked salmon and tiger prawns penne pasta)

Penne Insieme (smoked salmon and tiger prawns penne pasta)

Our Italian waiter was highly proficient and good-humoured. He insisted on pouring our wine in absolutely the correct manner, offering us first a taste and charging the glasses only when we were satisfied. Our bottle of house red (cabernet merlot, £12.95) was palatable enough to proceed.

The menu was quite extensive with an enticing mix of pizza, pasta, fish and meat dishes, and a fair smattering of vegetarian options and some dishes that will be familiar to British diners – potato skins starter, steaks, surf and turf, and lamb with mashed potato, for example.

We tried to head off-piste and choose Italian cuisine. My starter, capesante (seared king scallops with black pudding, minted pea puree and crispy pancetta, £8.50), was a delight. The combination of tastes was quite divine, with the peppery rocket acting as a perfect foil, although I might have expected more than two scallops, albeit they were large and succulent. The presentation was also rather special, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, slice of lemon and twist of black pepper completing an artistic picture.

Across the table arrived polpettoni (meatballs cooked in garlic, chilli, cherry tomatoes and white wine, £6.50) and gamberoni all’aglio (giant king prawns, grilled and finished in white wine, garlic and parsley, £8.95). To give readers an idea, I asked for their reviews – one said ‘lush’, the other said ‘bari’ (Northumbrian for ‘lush’). Enough said, I guess!

Branzino aromatizzato (sea bass on a bed of Mediterranean vegetables)

Branzino aromatizzato (sea bass on a bed of Mediterranean vegetables)

I did have a sneaky sample of the king prawns and had to agree with the succinct appraisal – it was a mouthwatering moment to savour.

Next up for me was branzino aromatizzato, which the Italian scholars among you will know means I opted for pan-fried fillets of sea bass (£12.95). They arrived balanced on a bed of chargrilled vegetables and topped with a rocket salad drizzled with olive oil – again another delicious course. The fish was cooked to perfection, lightly grilled and not frazzled or dried out. The Mediterranean veg – red, green and yellow peppers, courgettes and augergines – gave the dish body and subtle flavours but nothing spoilt the exquisite delicacy that is sea bass.

The others plumped for penne Insieme (penne pasta with smoked salmon, tiger prawns, asparagus and vodka, £9.50) and pollo ripieno (chicken breast stuffed with Italian sausage and a tomato sauce, £13.50). Both dishes were authentic and fresh. The pasta retained just enough bite and the chilli in the sausage adding considerable heat to the chicken course.

We’d had a lovely meal and topped it off with a couple of desserts (cheesecake, £4.95, and Mafioso chocolate cake, £5.50), followed by a delicious coffee.

Both desserts were substantial – the cheesecake being baked and quite dry but the addition of blueberries and a strawberry sauce to a chunky, vanilla foundation giving it flavour and moisture - just!

HAPPY HOURS FOR CHEAPER MEALS

Our bill came to £99.15 (three people, four courses), although you can certainly eat cheaper at Insieme by taking advantage of the meal deals or cheaper pizza or pasta options. Between noon and 6pm, you can get ‘happy hour’ special offers of two courses (starter and pizza or pasta) for £7.50, and three courses (starter, plus pizza or pasta, plus ice cream or coffee) for £8.95.

Youngsters are also made welcome with a one-course price of £3.50, two courses £4.50 and three courses £5.

SELECTION FROM THE MENU

Starters

Calimari......£5.50

Cozza Insieme (mussels)......£6.95

Minestrone soup......£3.95

Antipasto......£6.95

Mains

Pizza (various toppings)......£6.50-£9.95

Lasagne......£7.50

Mushroom risotto......£7.95

Linguine polpettoni (meatballs)......£6.95

Penne alfredo (chicken)......£7.95

Tagliatelle carbonara......£6.95

Salmon and king prawns......£14.95

Oven-roasted cod......£14.50

Sirloin steak (+£1.50 to £2.50 for sauces)......£15.95

Slow-cooked pork belly......£14.95

Chump of lamb......£16.95

Desserts

Tiramisu......£4.95

Italian ice-cream......£4.50

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Quality of food......9

Presentation......9

Choice......9

Vegetarian choice......7

Atmosphere......8

Use of local food (no details)......0

Service......9

Disabled access......6

Toilet for disabled......Yes

Overall rating......

Verdict: A taste of the Mediterranean by the North Sea. Well worth a visit.

Contact: 01665 720 440 or http://insieme-restaurant.uk/

The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed Socrates at No 5, Oldgate, Morpeth. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.