IT was about as near to impulsive a decision as it gets with two young children in the family. We were going out, we were going out for food and we were going tonight. Great.

Just one problem: finding a babysitter with eight hours’ notice. Never fear, grandparents are near. Thanks mam. We owe you. Again.

Durham’s version of Zizzi has recently been refurbished, making it fair game for a return trip for these pages. Externally, it had a new coat of paint: a trendy blue-green. Internally, it retained its open plan cooking-dining area. Again, quite trendy. Not to my taste though – the magic of the kitchen should stay in the kitchen, if you ask me; as well as the mishaps, disasters and whatever else might befall my food before it arrives at my table. Not that one need worry about such things at Zizzi - it's Scores on the Doors rating is the maximum five.

Nevertheless, I was quite relieved to overhear the friendly chap who met us at the front counter mention that our table was "in the corner, downstairs".

The restaurant was packed and Sarah and I were hoping to be able to hear each other speak.

Pleasantly, our cosy hideaway was beneath a huge wall display dedicated to Jeremiah Dixon - Cockfield's finest 18th Century surveyor and astronomer, after whom the Mason-Dixon line that traditionally demarcated the United States' free and slave states and the music genre Dixie is named.

Quite why there was so much space dedicated to this celebrated, but still relatively niche, local notable was not obviously explained. But, at the least, it was a nice nod to County Durham heritage and something that helped you forget you were in a chain restaurant.

Regrettably, I was seated right under a loud speaker which, rather than playing That's Amore on loop (as surely all Italian eateries should), was pumping out thumping muzak, only suitable if one wished to stage a rock concert in an office elevator.

Maybe we're getting old. Or grumpy. Or both. Twice we asked for the volume to be turned down. To be fair, on both occasions our waitress kindly and supportively agreed. We only had to repeat our request because, I suspect, unbeknown to her one of her colleagues turned up the volume again in the intervening period.

She gave good service, considering how busy she was. We usually managed to catch her eye, despite our remote position; and she was friendly throughout.

It wasn't her fault our starters didn't arrive until 9pm, nearly an hour after we'd arrived - we took a while to order and, as I said, they were busy.

To start, Sarah chose some garlic bread (£4.75), which was wonderfully thin and crunchy. I opted for the fonduta formaggi (£6.25), described as "a melting pot of gorgonzola, gruyère and pecorino cheese with 'little soul' bread". How times change. Seventeen years ago, as a (boy) Scout, I joined an overseas trip to Switzerland and was presented with fondue as the only option for supper. I didn't eat cheese. It was a hungry night. This time, I wolfed it down – it was beautifully thick and rich; the warm, doughy bread perfect for dipping.

On to main course, and Sarah chose the spiedini pollo (£13.75), a Mediterranean hanging skewer of roasted chicken breast, red onions, courgettes and peppers with a white wine and lemon sauce.

Visually, it was fantastic - reaching above head height. Gastronomically, it did not disappoint. The chicken was full and flavoursome; the seasoning transported the eater far, far away, to much sunnier shores.

I, as usual, was torn. But, quite fancying anchovies, I eventually chose the classic polpette (£10.95), a pizza topped with lamb and red pepper meatballs, anchovies, fior di latte and smoked mozzarella, spinach, olives, sunblush tomatoes, crushed chillies, roasted garlic cloves and smoked garlic oil.

Overall, I was a little disappointed. The anchovies were a little too strong for my taste, but the main issue was the same-iness. It's probably me, but by halfway through I'd grown accustomed to the tastes on offer and lost interest.

Dessert? We shouldn't have, but we did. Sarah chose the gelato, which comes priced at £4.65 for three scoops. The old favourites of vanilla and chocolate were nicely complemented by the left field addition of honey sea salt and mascarpone.

I was tempted by the salted caramel chocolate brownie, but it sounded so good I barely dared risk it, for fear it would fall short of my unrealistic expectations.

In the end, I went for something lighter: the baked lemon and raspberry cheesecake (£5.95), which came with crushed honeycomb and whipped mascarpone cream and was excellent – crumbly and refreshing, but not too fluffy.

By the time we were done, the downstairs had thinned out considerably. It was gone 10.30pm and my poor mother was still on childcare duties; still with the half-hour drive home ahead of her.

So we bade Zizzi arrivederci and made our way home. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable meal, served with a smile, at reasonable prices. And the carafe of Sicilian Merlot (£12.35) Sarah and I had shared between us had slipped down very easily. All in all, a lovely evening out. Here's to compulsiveness!


Zizzi 43-44 Saddler Street, Durham, DH1 3NU

Tel: 0191 386 3999


Food served: Monday to Wednesday, 11.30am-11pm; Thursday to Saturday, 11.30am-11pm; Sunday, 11.30am-10:30pm

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8, Service 6, Surroundings 7, Value 7