Amid all the rain, wind and threats of flooding this week, being transported to sunny, passionate Italy, if only in a culinary sense, felt like it would be a most welcome tonic.
And so it was as we walked out of the downpour in Morpeth on Tuesday night into Lollo Rosso, which opened just three months ago and is the latest venture from the duo formerly involved in Marabini’s – Giovanni and Miguel.
The first clue that we were in for a good evening was that the restaurant, on Bridge Street, was full with a continual flow of people in and out on what was a damp and dismal weekday evening.
The second was that a couple who were leaving as we entered were followed by a flurry of ‘ciao bella’, ‘arrivederci’ and ‘grazie’, transporting us south away from the wet to the warmth of the Mediterranean.
The frontage of Lollo Rosso, on the roundabout, is quite narrow, but after walking past a small entrance area and the bar, the building opens up into quite a large restaurant area where several larger groups were seated among the twos and fours.
The décor is relatively simple, with exposed brick columns, painted walls and wooden floors, while the atmosphere was lively and comfortable.
Thankfully, the food lived up to our heightened expectations.
It’s always a sign of an extensive menu featuring plenty of tempting dishes when you have to send the waiter away because you need some more time to decide exactly what you want to eat.
Some prefer a concise menu with a small number of well-executed plates, but in an Italian restaurant, it is customary to have a wider selection with pizzas and pastas as well as meat and fish dishes.
Such was the case at Lollo Rosso and it took both of us some time to make our choices.
As is my wont, I ended up selecting both my courses from the specials menu, which was written up on a blackboard, but helpfully there were also printed copies for each diner, meaning the poor people sat beneath the board don’t have everyone else loitering nearby to read what’s available.
The beauty of eating specials is that you hope that the produce is nice and fresh and if the food is good, you can always return to sample food from the normal menu – you may never get another crack at that intriguing-sounding special.
While we had been given bread for the table upon sitting down, we were also handed a bruschetta (toasted bread topped with diced tomato, basil and garlic) when we awaited our starters.
This was on the house, but I don’t think my reviewer status had been given away so we were just lucky!
My starter was scallops Allenzo (£9.95) – fresh, pan-fried scallops with smoked salmon and a vodka, cream and tarragon sauce – which certainly persuaded me of the correctness of my predilection for specials.
The scallops were cooked very well – the perfect middle-ground between raw and chewy, the salmon was delicious, but the sauce really finished the dish off spectacularly.
Cream and tarragon is a well-versed partnership, but the addition of the vodka cut through some of the richness ensuring it wasn’t too much for the more delicate flavours of a scallop.
Across the table was the calzone fritto (£6.95), a fried baby calzone (rolled-up pizza for those not familiar with the term) stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, ham, tomato and ricotta. It was served with a small, silver bucket of tomato sauce which had a nice chilli kick.
I was permitted a taste as it was fairly large for a starter and was impressed by the light and crispy pizza dough.
This was followed by the sea bass acqua pazza (£15.95 and another special), fresh fillets of the fish served in a cherry tomato, garlic and basil sauce.
All the main fish and meat dishes are served with either chips, salad or vegetables; I’m slightly ashamed to say we both opted for the former.
I went for the pollo saltimbocca (£13.95), a pan-fried chicken breast topped with parma ham and mozzarella and served with a white wine sauce.
I really enjoyed it and while the combination of chicken, ham and cheese will win no awards for originality, the sauce was once again very good, raising the dish above what may be expected.
The food had been great, but after two courses and the unexpected bruschetta, there was no room for dessert.
A RANGE OF PRICES FOR ALL BUDGETS
Our bill for two people eating two courses each and having two rounds of drinks was under £60, which wasn’t too bad as we had opted for specials and pricier meat and fish dishes. You could eat a lot more cheaply, particularly if you stick to the pizza and pasta.
What’s more, the restaurant runs a happy hour offer from noon-2pm and 5pm-6pm, Monday to Saturday, when a wide range of pizza and pasta dishes cost just £4.95 each.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Mussels (choice of sauces)......£6.95
Baked goats’ cheese......£6.95
Range of toppings......£7.50-£8.95
Chicken with pepper sauce......£12.95
Chicken in breadcrumbs......£13.95
Salmon Lollo Rosso......£14.95
Risotto Zafferano (mushroom, chicken and saffron)......£9.95
Surf and turf......£23.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......unknown
Toilet for disabled......No (toilets on first floor)
Verdict: You’re sure to find something you like at this well-run and tasty Italian.
Contact: 01670 514111 or visit www.lollorossoitalia.co.uk