ON a cold and drizzly night the light coming from a cosy bistro looks all the more inviting.
And so after a brisk – and wet – walk down Yarm High Street we were thankful to come in out of the rain and warm up with a drink.
Santoro is the kind of restaurant that oozes homely comfort but not at the expense of its chic decor, which is all oversized ornate mirrors and mismatched vintage-inspired finds.
Established in 1979 by Vincenze Serino, the restaurant has built up a fantastic reputation, and the trusted core team of staff have been on board for an impressive 20 years.
It’s the kind of restaurant that people go back to time and time again for family celebrations – engagements, job offers or just a good old get-together.
We hadn’t visited in a long time and so were hoping that nothing much had changed.
After a warm welcome we were sat down in a window seat to peruse the menu and enjoy some complimentary olives, which is always a nice touch, I think.
As well as the menu there are a number of chalk ‘specials boards’ which add to the charm of the restaurant. It’s customary that diners actually get up from their table and have a walk around looking at the many boards to take in what’s on offer.
Despite some tasty looking specials we opted for our starters and mains from the menu proper whilst enjoying a drink – me a designated driver’s glass of water, ice and lemon and Chris a pint of Stella.
A waiter came over, took our orders and led us over to our table for the evening.
The rain had certainly not put off other diners from eating out at Santoro which, for a Monday night, was packed. Clinking glasses and a low chatter always helps add to the ambience.
Our waiter was one we recognised. He’s worked at Santoro for as long as we’ve been customers and is always friendly but professional. The over-familiar waiter tends to be a real bugbear for me, but this one in particular always gets the balance just right.
I opted for aubergine parmigiana for starters (£5.90), oven-baked layers of aubergine, tomato sauce and mozzarella, “like mama used to make,” according to the menu.
Chris chose Santoro’s ‘own chicken liver pate’ (£4.90) with Cointreau and pistachios, served on a fine toast.
As we were waiting for our starters we were treated to slices of fresh, toasted garlic bread which is served complimentary with all first courses. In today’s culture of “charge for everything”, this seems to be becoming quite a rarity.
The parmigiana was delicious. Although I’m not a vegetarian I often pick the non-meat option from a menu. The aubergine had a meaty texture which was made all the more tasty with the rich tomato sauce and melted cheese. Real comfort food to warm the cockles.
Chris’ pate was thick but luxuriously smooth – and it came with plenty of toast and a red onion chutney to cut through the richness. There was also a tasty salad garnish.
Although the restaurant was busy it wasn’t too long before our main courses were brought out.
I chose the fresh fillets of seabass (£16.90), shallow-fried with spring onions, cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and prawns in a shellfish sauce.
Chris, as always, went for the steak. He had the New York Strip “Au Poivre” (£18.90) – the menu describes it as a 10oz middle cut sirloin with green and black peppercorns, finished with cognac and cream.
The overriding feature of my meal was just how fresh it tasted. If there’s one thing that can totally ruin a fish dish for me is that if it’s even the slightest bit overcooked. This wasn’t. It fell apart and the spring onions helped to cut through the sumptuous shellfish sauce.
Chris assured me his steak was cooked just as he likes it, medium rare.
He tends to be quite the fusspot when it comes to excess fat on his meat, and so was happy to report there was very little.
I tasted his accompanying peppercorn sauce and it was creamy and delicious, with a good kick to it.
I feel that if you are shelling out for a fairly expensive main course then it should be accompanied by a decent amount of potatoes and vegetables to share.
Santoro didn’t disappoint in this regard.
There wasn’t an abundance but we still didn’t finish what was brought out; a tasty selection of courgette, carrots, spinach, onions and new potatoes. All cooked in butter. Probably not the healthiest way to eat veg, but definitely the tastiest. Thankfully it was also served al dente; mushy veg is something I avoid at all costs.
After two hefty courses there was little room for dessert and we decided to give it a miss this time, even though there was plenty on offer – including the ever-popular sticky toffee pud.
To be perfectly honest I’m always slightly dubious of reviews that find little to criticise, thinking there’s always an area of ‘must do better’.
But on this visit to Santoro there really was no negative to speak of – perhaps a little on the costly side, but we’re more than happy to pay it for a pretty faultless meal as an occasional treat.
Thankfully, nothing much has changed at Santoro – and that’s just the way we like it.
Address: Santoro Wine Bar & Restaurant, 56 High Street, Yarm, Teesside, TS15 9AH. Tel: 01642 781305
Open: Monday-Saturday noon to 2pm and 6.30pm to late. Sunday closed
First impressions: A cosy restaurant on Yarm’s cosmopolitan high street.
Style, design and furnishings: Homely and rustic with ornate touches.
Welcome: Warmly greeted by waiter at the door.
Value: Expensive but worth it. Keep an eye out for the specials boards.
Disabled facilities: Two steps at entrance to get into restaurant. Downstairs toilets for disabled access.