DISCOVERING a fantastic restaurant on your doorstep is always a joy and earlier this month I was lucky enough to do just that. My friend Laura and I have recently moved to Witton Gilbert and - as a reward for days of relentless unpacking- we treated ourselves to a meal at Carlito’s Ristorante, a new Italian eatery in nearby Sacriston.

From the outside, the restaurant looks like a workingmen’s club. However, when we crossed the threshold we were greeted with a stylish interior, which I would describe as Mediterranean with a contemporary twist.

The restaurant is spacious with a mezzanine level overlooking the bar and lower dining area. Laura’s boyfriend, Will, had joined us for dinner and we were seated on a table for four on the upper level. A friendly waitress handed us menus and took our drinks order, two lime and sodas and fresh orange juice. Will later ordered a Peroni, one of several lagers Carlito’s has on tap.

As well as the a la carte menu, the restaurant offers a two and three-course special menu, which is available all day, Monday to Thursday, and from noon to 6pm on Friday and Saturday. There is also a happy hour menu, available from noon to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday, noon to 6pm on Saturday, and 5pm to closing time on Sunday.

We all chose from the two and three-course special, priced at £9.99 for two courses or £12.99 for three courses. We were impressed by the choice of dishes and high quality ingredients, which far exceeded the usual pizza and pasta offerings you get at many Italian restaurants.

After much deliberation, we gave our order to the waitress and about 15 minutes later our food arrived. For starter, Laura plumped for the black pudding and pomegranate salad, which was served with a pan-fried scallop, a crisp Parma ham sail, Parmesan crisp and pea tendrils. She described it as utterly delicious and praised the freshness of the salad. Will chose smoked salmon on toasted fennel bread. This came with capers and watercress cream and was also a big hit.

My starter was my favourite course of the night. It comprised a large pan fried mushroom filled with roasted chorizo, char grilled roast pepper and braised sweet red onions. It was topped with melted goat’s cheese, rocket and rose water flavoured rhubarb jam. Even the memory makes my mouth water.

The empty starter plates were swiftly cleared and our main courses arrived ten minutes later. I chose the seafood ragu served with tomatoes, saffron, celery, carrots, roasted garlic, white wine, king prawns, mussels, scallop, calamari and spaghetti. It was a tasty dish cooked well, with the sauce complimenting the delicate flavour of the succulent seafood. The large chunks of carrots also added a delicious sweetness.

Will spoke just as highly about his dish, the Sicilian lemon chicken, which was char grilled, topped with lemon thyme butter and served on a bed of sticky wild mushroom risotto rice. However, it was Laura’s Tuscany beef that won the prize of dish of the day and, having tried a bit, I will certainly order it on my next visit. The beef strips had been simmered with red wine, shallots, carrot, celery, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme and were served with a caramalised jus on a bed of sticky wild mushroom rice.

The beef was so tender it almost melted in the mouth and the rich source and creamy rice proved the perfect indulgent accompaniment.

By this point we were pretty full but having caught glimpses of decadent desserts arriving at nearby tables we were determined not to miss out. We ordered two desserts to share between us but poor Will barely got a look in.

Our first choice was the homemade sticky toffee and ginger pudding with toffee sauce and ginger ice cream. The sponge was warm and gooey and the combination of toffee sauce and ginger ice cream was heaven. The chef’s rhubarb and ginger cheese cake with rose flavoured raspberry coulis and Turkish delight ice cream was equally impressive. Laura is a great fan of the scent and flavour of rose and raved about the ice cream all the way home.

I will definitely return to Carlito’s. The food and service were fantastic and at £46 for three people it offers excellent value for money.

Carlito’s Ristorante, 1 Heugh Edge, Daisy Hill, Sacriston, 0191-371-9568

Food served: Noon to 9.30pm, Monday to Saturday, noon to 8.30pm on Sunday

Food quality 9, Service 9, Surroundings 8, Value 9.