One of the main themes of modern life is choice and it seems that whatever you are doing these days, there is an ever-expanding range of options, from what to watch on television to where we shop, from where we go on holiday to what and where we eat.
There are the arguments of free markets and increased competition, but more choice doesn’t always mean that we are getting better quality, nor does it make deciding what you want any simpler.
In many cases, the choice on offer to us in the second decade of the 21st century is fantastic, but sometimes it can be overwhelming and going back to basics is a refreshing change.
Italian cuisine is one of my favourites and the beauty of it is, even where there is a wide variety of options, the food itself is usually based on simple concepts using a small number of fresh, tasty ingredients which work well together.
It doesn’t need to be smartened up or refined, as it is rustic cookery, which has been honed over years to make best use of the produce available in that country.
If you agree with what I’ve said so far then I may be able to recommend what appears to me to be a hidden gem on the Northumberland food scene.
If you think I am totally wrong and you will not go to eat somewhere unless the menu has at least 45 options then perhaps you best stop reading now.
To dine in the evening at Fanciulli in Rothbury, if you don’t wish to have a panino sandwich, you can choose from one of four pasta dishes (£6.50 each) or three salads – chicken Caesar, tuna or Greek (£8.75 each).
When we ate, a choice of four starters, at £3.75 each – garlic pizza bread, potato skins, bruschette and pâté – had been chalked up on a board. And that was it.
Even the pasta dishes on offer kept it simple, sticking in the main to the old favourites – carbonara, cannelloni and lasagna.
The fourth option was pesto pasta and mushroom.
We both decided to have bruschette to start and didn’t regret it.
Remember what I said earlier about a small number of fresh, tasty ingredients which work well together, well, that was exactly the case here.
Three pieces of crisp bread, topped with olive oil, plenty of sweet and juicy tomato and a smattering of red onion.
They were served with a decent portion of lettuce and more red onion with balsamic vinegar and olive oil drizzled round the outside.
It was perfect to get the taste-buds tingling for the main event, which for me was the carbonara.
It arrived looking just as I had hoped and tasted that way too. The spaghetti was well cooked, the sauce was creamy and cheesy with little bursts of the salty meatiness of bacon and bringing it together was the cracked black pepper, which helps to cut through the richness.
Across the table was the pesto pasta and mushroom and what surprised me about this dish was that it too came with a creamy sauce rather than pesto in its raw form. But the variation was appreciated and got the thumbs-up from the wife.
Compared to the mains and starters, there are quite a few pastry and desserts in keeping with Fanciulli’s daytime role as a café.
This is useful because it meant that while I had a slice of torta ricotta and amaretto (£3.95), which was a typical dessert size, there are also slightly smaller options for those that are feeling full after a bowlful of pasta.
A range of Italian pastries are on offer, many of which are available with different fillings so my dining companion had a barchette, or shortcrust pastry boat, filled with chocolate cream (£1.50).
My torta was filled with a mix of ricotta and macaroons and reminded me of a more subtle Bakewell tart.
Anyone who remains unconvinced may be swayed by the fact that you can take your own alcohol. This option always helps to reduce a dining-out bill, but coupled with the very modest prices at Fanciulli, it really is a very reasonable place to eat. Our bill, for three courses each, was about £26. In this day and age, you can’t say fairer than that.
MORE ON OFFER EARLIER IN DAY
Fanciulli is primarily a café, as shown by its opening time of 10.30am to 8pm, although service seemed to continue past this point on Saturday, and therefore the daytime options are certainly worth a mention.
The choices for breakfast and lunch are more extensive with around 10 options for the former, ranging from a bacon sarnie to scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.
There are 13 panini to choose from, served with salad and chips, with prices starting at £3.95 for cheese on its own.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Scrambled egg on toast......£4.95
Poached egg on toast......£3.95
Smoked salmon and scrambled egg......£7.95
Pancake, Nutella & cream......£4.50
Panini (With Salad & Chips)
Parma ham and cheese......£5.95
Scones, fruit or cheese......£2.95
Quality of food......8½
Use of local food......none on menu
Value for money......9½
Access for the disabled......8
Toilet for the disabled......Yes
Verdict: Do you want classic Italian food at very reasonable prices? Then look no further.