By Nick Searle-Donoso First Year English Literature.
After climbing up a winding staircase lined with Renaissance-style art, one is faced with waiters who, rapidly muttering in Italian, weave in and out of the haphazardly placed chairs and tables with plates resting lightly upon their fingertips. ‘La Spaghettata’ is packed: the conversation rises and falls, the shadows flicker, and the (most certainly real) candles dance. The décor is phantasmagorical, with murals of rural villages, aged barrels of wine, and rustic stonework that could easily belong to a restaurant in the backstreets of a historic Italian city.
Nonetheless, ‘Spags’, as it is affectionately known, has a distinctively Durham feel. The voices are sonorously Northern, a ‘Durham pizza’ sits proudly on the menu, a decorative troll stares at diners ominously, and the murals are only murals.
Once seated, a menu is promptly placed in front of me. ‘To drink?’ asks the waiter, somewhat intimidatingly. Resisting the unbudgeted (or rather unbudget-able) vino, I ask for water rather sheepishly. To start with, I order the focaccia bread, wonderfully drenched in olive oil, with rosemary, cherry tomatoes and olives.
The main course follows shortly after, and I go for the ‘Pizza alla Rughetta e Formaggio’: Parma ham, mozzarella, feta, cherry tomatoes and rocket. The pizza base is thin but soft, with a thin and crispy crust, whilst the subtle flavour of olive oil permeates the pizza and adds a certain moreish-ness. The saltiness of the Parma ham is mellowed by the gooeyness of the mozzarella and offset by the slight tang of feta cheese, while the cherry tomatoes and rocket offer a fresh note, which round off the pizza.
Stuffed and satisfied, with a queue forming outside, the bill is swiftly set before me. With an apologetic shrug of a waiter expecting a relentless Friday night, I am shepherded out of the restaurant.
Overall, with starters ranging from four pounds to eight pounds, and pizzas and pasta dishes averaging seven pounds, ‘Spags’ is a perfect meal out for students strapped for cash. Therefore, for an authentic Italian experience with a distinctive Durham twist, ‘Spags’ is an excellent dining option.
Photographs by Nick Searle-Donoso.