As an entertainments reporter, panto season is a busy time of year – especially when there are so many brilliant ones to go and see in the North East.
So when I was invited to the Theatre Royal’s Peter Pan press night I thought it might be nice to treat my daughter to dinner before we went to the show.
When I asked the press officers at the theatre where they would recommend that was quick, inexpensive, good for children and also delicious, Pani’s Cafe was the restaurant that ticked all the boxes.
And it was the perfect place to go.
Pani’s is on High Bridge, two streets away from Theatre Royal – perfect for a pre-show meal.
It was one of the first Italian style cafes in Newcastle and claims to be as authentically Italian as you can get without actually going to Italy.
But it isn’t just Italian, it is Sardinian – and that makes all the difference.
The cafe is staffed by a family of brothers and sisters who are brimming with continental charm and style – and they love children.
It’s a bit deceptive from the outside and looks to be quite small, but once you walk around the bar there is a vast restaurant area at the back.
And what is even more appealing is the open view into the kitchen, where you can see chefs cooking away.
The menu at Pani’s is incredible – there is so much choice and one could feel overwhelmed when faced with it.
There isn’t a separate menu for children, but they can have a half-portion of anything on the menu, for half the price – which is a pretty good deal I think.
We didn’t have loads of time when we arrived – thanks to the snow and driving conditions on the A1 – so we went for main courses and puddings, if we had time at the end.
As Pani’s is Sardinian, I thought I would try one of their authentic dishes so went for the fregola con pesce while the little lady went for bolognese made with malloreddus, which is a type of Sardinian gnocchi.
We also ordered some garlic bread with cheese and a rocket salad on the side.
No sooner had we had a sip of our drinks than the food arrived – service is definitely swift in Pani’s, but everything is fresh and piping hot.
Fregola is tiny balls of pasta and my dish was made with tiger prawns, crab meat, peas, saffron and onions.
It was sublime. The flavours were fresh and the fish was cooked beautifully and the pasta was perfect.
Opposite me the malloreddus bolognese went down extremely well. The ragu was rich and meaty and full of flavour, while the pasta was again cooked to perfection.
Waiters came round with Parmesan and black pepper as well – just another great touch.
The garlic bread was the perfect accompaniment – it was quite potent – but delicious all the same.
And you can’t really go wrong with rocket.
Having almost licked our dishes clean (it was that tasty!), the super-speedy service meant there was time for a quick dessert – much to the delight of my daughter.
She opted for two scoops of ice-cream while I chose the cannolo Siciliano.
And again we were not disappointed. The cannolo is like a canneloni tube, but in a sweet form, and was filled with a rich marscapone cream with a touch of citrus. It was really good.
The ice-cream also went down well.
Within 40 minutes we had eaten two courses, paid and left the restaurant – now that is quick efficient service.
What I loved about it though was that just because it was quick the food was still top quality.
There are lots of staff at Pani’s and I think nearly all of them came over to smile at and talk to my daughter. To me that made it even better. Sometimes when you’re out for a meal with children, especially in the evening, staff aren’t as welcoming, but at Pani’s they were more than – top marks from me!
It really was a gem of a find and somewhere I think we will definitely go to when in town.
PERFECT FOR A PRE-THEATRE DINNER
Pani’s Cafe is the perfect stop for a pre-theatre meal in Newcastle, or a quick dinner before you get the train or bus back to Northumberland. While the main menu is extensive and covers everything from salads and appetisers to full-on steak and hearty pasta dishes, they also have a snack menu, which is served every day from 10am to 4pm. It contains a variety of lighter dishes for those wanting something a little less filling.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Insalata ai fruttie du mare......£7.95
Lasagne al forno......£6.95
Fregola con pesce......£9.95
Carne - Pesce
Pollo con Lenticchie......£12.45
Tagliata di Manzo......£16.95
Desserts (all £4.95)
Tiramisu, Pannacotta, Torta Delia Nonna, Cannolo Siciliano
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......not mentioned
Value for money......8
Caters for children ......Yes
Toilet for the disabled......yes
Verdict: A brilliant, family friendly, authentic, Sardinian restaurant, quick and very good value for money.