FINALLY! A restaurant that ticks all the boxes!

Yes, I've used two exclamation marks - and I'm tempted to use more, simply to express the relief I felt when I finished the meal and wasn't disappointed.

So where is this restaurant? I was just as surprised as I'm guessing you are to discover that the answer is my unsuspecting home town of Peterlee.

I had heard good things about the Sambuca chain and was glad to see a restaurant open where there had been a vacant site for a long time, several violent incidents having led to pubs closing previously.

I took my mam on a Sunday and thought we were cutting it fine booking a table for 3.30pm, given the closing time of 5pm.

I was half expecting to suffer that rushed feeling, when you can tell the staff are watching the clock to get home, but was pleasantly surprised to be greeted warmly by our waitress and given a choice of where to sit in this welcoming restaurant.

I always seem to draw the short straw when it comes to being seated but we were able to choose a nice table by the window and sat happily perusing our menus.

It didn’t take me long to notice the deep fried brie with sweet chilli dip (£3.95) and my mam ordered the traditional prawn cocktail (£3.50) for starters.

Both were presented immaculately with a fresh salad and were generous portions while also leaving you wanting more.

For our mains I chose the calzone (£4.95) as I think it is a dish to compare across the board in an Italian.

And after my filling starter the first thing I was relieved to find was that it wasn’t gigantic, as I normally find, but a neatly packed parcel that didn’t swamp my plate.

It was packed with flavour with the chunks of ham and mushroom and smothered in cheese – again I wasn’t complaining.

It defeated me by only a couple of bites, which was probably due to having such a calorific starter, but I do have to admit I had also pinched some of my mam’s pollo alla crema (£7.95).

The smell of the creamy sauce alone was enough to tempt me in from the other side of the table and I wasn’t disappointed as she let me have a few bites.

The chicken itself was succulent and came with a generous portion of seasonal vegetables, although there was also the choice to have homemade chips which I’ve had the pleasure of trying before and I could eat a whole plate of them.

It’s safe to say we were sufficiently stuffed after our first two courses, but as always we left that all-important space for dessert.

While we were pondering over the menu, it was lovely to see how far the staff were willing to go to accommodate their customers, as a family came in with a shy little girl and within five minutes our waitress and other staff had her up dancing to Abba’s Mamma Mia!

To me, being able to accommodate the young shows a real skill in waitressing and reaffirmed my feeling that this is an authentic family-friendly restaurant where the Italian philosophy that nothing is too much trouble really does shine through.

Of course the most important course was still to come and there was no doubt in my mind what I would be choosing, room for it or not – chocolate fudge cake (£3.95).

As a self-confessed chocoholic, my previous reviews have left me seriously disappointed with what restaurants pass off as this traditional dish.

However, I had a good feeling when the waitress asked if I wanted it warm with ice cream and was not disappointed when it came oozing with chocolate fudge with a generous scoop of vanilla.

I haven’t had chocolate fudge cake that good since I was a child and my mam had her sweet tooth satisfied too with the Eton mess (£3.95) which came in a sundae glass and was full to the brim with ice cream, cherries, meringue and cream.

Despite being perilously close to closing time, we weren’t rushed and even enjoyed a coffee and one more drink before we asked for the bill, which in itself topped of a wonderful visit when I saw the price.

This is definitely a gem worth visiting... worth another exclamation mark!

Sambuca Peterlee, 11 Burnhope Way, Peterlee, County Durham, SR8 1BT.

Tel: 0191-586-2222. Food served Tuesday to Thursday, noon to 9.30pm; Friday and Saturday, noon to 10pm; Sunday, noon to 5pm.

Ratings (out of 10) Food quality: 8 Surroundings: 8 Value: 8 Service: 9