I would guess that most people’s ‘go to’ cuisine for a Valentine’s dinner would be Italian? Not only do our friends from southern Europe speak the language of love but there are a huge range of restaurants to choose from and a consistency of offering that represents a safe bet, whether you’re looking to woo a new target of your affections or celebrate a more established relationship.
And so when my long-suffering partner suggested an early meal out to mark the annual slush fest - and having got over the surprise that this was an occasion she wanted to celebrate - I scoured the foodie websites for an appropriate and available Italian restaurant. This year’s date fell during the working week so we had decided to venture out instead on a Sunday evening.
At the outset I should say that I have previously been disappointed by visits to other celebrity chef venues: maybe it’s the weight of expectation that comes with the brand, or the fact that there’s an unreasonable idea that you will catch a glimpse of the great artist at work that dooms them to failure. Certainly to date, my handful of experiences had been consistently underwhelming.
If availability at peak times is anything to go by, then Gino D’Acampo’s Quayside restaurant was going to refresh the parts that other celebrity chefs had failed to reach. You can of course take these things with a pinch of salt (or in this case a grind of black pepper) when there’s a new ‘celebrity endorsed’ place to be tried out (this branch opened in 2021) and being busy in the short-term isn’t necessarily a good indicator. However, I had heard positive reports from friends and colleagues, so when I found a table for two - late on the appointed Sunday afternoon, I decided that this was the place to go.
The restaurant enjoys a prime waterfront location on the Tyne and we were shown to our table which was suitably romantic by the window overlooking the river, just as dusk was starting to fall. So far, so good for ambience and my Valentine’s Day brownie points seemed safely banked.
Service was prompt, friendly and efficient at the outset but this was to change – more of that later.
The menu is certainly an upgrade on your average cosy local Italian joint, although with premium pricing to match – but there is a wide range of staple dishes familiar to all of us. As a side note, (and not wishing to sound sniffy), it was a surprise to see that Traditional British Sunday Lunches were also on offer. For me this detracts from the (presumably) desired positioning of the restaurant as ‘relatively high-end, authentic, Italian’. Clearly there is a demand to be satisfied however so each to their own I guess...
My preferred main was unavailable though (perhaps a reflection of the end of the weekend slot that we were in) and I opted for simple bruschetta and meatballs to follow. Tasty if unspectacular, as were the calamari, pumpkin and ricotta tortellini chosen by my beloved. All perfectly fine and nicely presented without being too ‘cheffy’. Simple food done well. Our respective drinks choices were also enjoyed – a crisp white Italian Chardonnay for me and a cutely named ‘If My Grandma Had Wheels’ whisky based cocktail for m’lady. Cocktails really are a ‘thing’ these days aren’t they? Choices here also include a ‘Little Italy’ and ‘Gino and the Giant Peach’.
And so to dessert : or that’s what we were aiming to do. From our initial look at the menu, the range of options did look enticing and a tad different: Gino’s creative influence clearly in evidence here. However, due to the apparent change of shifts for the waiting staff, we were left without menus or any service at this point for around 20 minutes. Not a ridiculous delay but sufficient to change our decision and ask for the bill.
Passing other diners enjoying the sumptuous looking sweet calzone and other treats on our way out, we did leave feeling a little short-changed. My Valentine’s Day points literally disappeared along with the brownie.
While my loyalty to more cheap-and-cheerful local pizza places remains unmoved, We certainly will return here: if only to give the restaurant a try at a more conventional time to eat and to sample the dishes that I had originally settled on.