“THE best Italian in Durham,” said a diner who rumbled me in an Indian restaurant where I was trying to blend in with the wallpaper to do an incognito review, “is in Spennymoor. You should get yourself there."

And so we did.

Cavello’s is in the middle of Spennymoor, next to a hard rock bar and opposite a large 'Spoons in an unprepossessing terraced building with a door that doesn’t shut very well – on Friday a chill sleety blast accompanied every entry or exit until it was rammed into its hole.

The Northern Echo: Cavello's in Spennymoor: it doesn't look much, but it opens into a large restaurant

The atmosphere inside, though, was warm – a hubbub of people, coming and going (the restaurant seats about 75, and was nearly full, plus there were others calling for takeaways), some very smiley staff, and a female vocalist singing pop classics very pleasantly. I felt rather rude as my back was permanently to her, but then my fellow diners were too engrossed in their food or their conversations to applaud when she finished a song for all that she crooned her heart out.

The menu is huge and varied, both in dishes and prices: pastas and pizzas for about a tenner, risotto for £12, but then chicken for about £16, fish for £22 and steak from £26 up to £48. There were three vegan dishes but in comparison to the array of meat options, vegetarian choices for the main course were a little limited.

Starters ranged from deep fried potato skins for £5 to king prawns in white wine and garlic for £10. Petra, my wife, and I decided to share an antipasto board (£15.20 for two), which was so huge that it could have done as a full meal for two (below).

The Northern Echo: The antipasto board at Cavello\'s, a smorgasbord for two

It was a smorgasbord: ham, two types of chorizo, lots of slippery mozzarella, some really good bruschetta, plenty of salad, plenty of toasted bread, lashings of balsamic vinegar, fine olives and excellent pate.

It was obviously popular as we saw several boards going out to other tables. However good it was, though, it was more assemblage than cookery: how good that might be was revealed the moment my wire basket full of fries arrived to go with my main course.

Petra took one, took one bite, and looked over: “These are really good.” Really good. Crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and beautifully seasoned.

The Northern Echo: The ravioli in a creamy sauce

She had chosen the ravioli (above) stuffed with ricotta and spinach in an onion, mushroom and cream sauce (£9.20). It was fully flavoured, with bay leaves hidden in the sauce. Initially, she purred about how good it was, but as she filled up, all the flavours – the onions, mushrooms, cream and bay – became a bit too rich.

The Northern Echo: Pollo affumicato at Cavello\'s: chicken and prawns in a tomato and vodka sauce

I had chosen pollo affumacato (£16.95, but still not the most expensive chicken dish) (above). Neither I nor the internet can explain the word “affumacato” – “affumicato” is a smoked dish, but this was a beautiful, unsmoked but succulent chicken breast served in tomato and vodka sauce topped with prawns.

It was absolutely superb. The vodka had a surprisingly hard edge which cut through the richness of the tomato so that the chicken, and even the delicate prawns, shone through. The menu mentioned the presence of a little chilli, but I didn’t detect that, but there was a great speckling of basil that added another dimension to the sauce. Loaded up onto those perfect chips, I really enjoyed this.

Petra couldn’t manage a dessert, but I manfully tackled a homemade tiramisu (£6.95) (below). It was lovely. A great coffee-chocolate combination, light sponge, inobtrusive cream and, best of all, a goey, boozy soggy bottom. Great.

The Northern Echo: My excellent homemade tiramisu at Cavello's

Our bill, with soft drinks, came to a reasonable £62.90. Of course, more extravagant selections would have added at least another 50 per cent.

With the ambience of a busy Italian city ristorante rather than a downtown Durham diner in a former mining and ironworking community, Cavello’s provided me with a dish and a dessert that will live long in the memory. It’s definitely up there with the very best in south Durham, and it would be even better if the door shut properly.


13, Cheapside, Spennymoor DL16 6QE

Tel: 01388-417256

Web: cavellos.co.uk

Ratings (out of ten): Surroundings 7 Service 8 Food quality 8 Value for money 8