Sign up

Inspiration straight to your inbox

I wish to receive emails about: (optional)

By clicking sign up you agree to the Privacy Policy

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.


We’re sorry to see you go, but if you’d no longer like to receive newsletters from us enter your email below

By clicking unsubscribe you agree to the Privacy Policy

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

  1. Home
  2. > Things To Do
  3. > Get to Know… Marco Polo
Things To Do

Get to Know… Marco Polo

We find out the secret of long-running Italian restaurant Marco Polo's success

Last updated:
Get To Know... Marco Polo (Image: the restaurant in 1997)

The restaurant scene is fast-moving and can be ruthless – restaurants come and go with alarming speed as food trends change and economic circumstances hit. That’s why it’s really quite rare to find a restaurant – especially an independent one – thriving years after opening. And surviving for fifty years? That’s genuinely remarkable.

In which case, all hail Marco Polo, the neighbourhood-style Italian place that’s been making diners happy since 1974! As their fiftieth birthday approaches, we thought we’d catch up with restaurant manager Margot Blenkinsop to find out how they’ve lasted so long and become the oldest Italian restaurant in the city.

Marco Polo in 1976 Marco Polo in 1976

Newcastle was a very different city fifty years ago, as was Dean Street, and perhaps not the most obvious place to open an Italian restaurant. But the Valenti family were determined and threw open the doors of Marco Polo in 1974, running it until the mid-2000s when it was taken over by the current owners, two Newcastle locals. 

It’s a fully independent restaurant, not part of a portfolio of restaurant businesses, and it seems to inspire remarkable loyalty among the customers (some have been regulars since the very beginning) and the staff, with most of the team in place for more than ten years, and some of the kitchen staff for twenty or thirty. Restaurant manager Margot has been there for thirteen years and is rightly proud of the restaurant and what a tight-knit team they have.

The obvious questions to ask Margot is how she thinks Marco Polo has survived for so long when so many other restaurants have failed or moved on.

Our focus has always been on maintaining our ethos - delivering high-quality cuisine!” Margot explains. “We've never like cut corners and we’ve always kept the value very good. Our customers know what to expect when they come in - a lot of our customers have been coming since 1974 and we get loads of regulars who know we’re friendly and approachable. We remember everyone. We’ve all been working together for a while and we’re all very passionate about the restaurant and what we do, and that comes across to the customers. It was the same with the previous owners - there’s a sort of family feel and people appreciate it.

Marco Polo Lasagne and Aperol Spritz Marco Polo Lasagne and Aperol Spritz

Obviously, the key to a successful restaurant is mostly about the food, and Marco Polo’s menu is very tempting: it’s relatively short, which shows a kitchen focussing on what they do best and playing to their strengths. There’s around a dozen each of starters, pizzas and pasta dishes – mostly familiar but with some interesting touches (we like to do a contemporary twist on Italian classics, just to keep things modern”, says Margot) – and a handful of other mains, from pork belly to frutti di mare. They offer a popular pre-theatre menu that offers one, two or three courses for £11.95, £15.95 or £19.95 too and includes dishes like fennel sausage with harissa roasted peppers and pappardelle bianco ragu.

The restaurant underwent a big refurbishment during lockdown – “we were going back to its roots a little bit, an Italian vibe” – but mostly likes to keep things exactly as their regular clientele like it. For their fiftieth anniversary, however, they’re introducing a new menu that keeps all the old favourites but also reintroduces some classics of yesteryear that haven’t been on the menu for a while, like a fettuccine ragu bianco, which features minced chicken in a white ragu with spinach, leeks, wild mushrooms & mascarpone.

Margot believes that the ingredients they use are vital.

To be honest, I think the quality of our ingredients is a lot higher than a lot of our competitors – we source stuff locally, including our meat and fish, and we source really high quality meats and cheeses from Italy,” she explains. “Everything is cooked and prepared on site, all the dishes are made from scratch.

Marco Polo in 1997 Marco Polo in 1997

The fascinating statistics on the restaurant’s website tell their own story: since 1974, it’s estimated they’ve sold 3,431,110 pizzas and 4,305,600 glasses of wine, and used 291,635kg of mozzarella and 5,978.400 cloves of garlic!

The restaurant also has a strong wine list and some tasty cocktails (with a popular two-for-one cocktail offer), with a delicious blood orange negroni and a hibiscus and chilli margarita being particular highlights.

As we often do with restaurants, we asked Margot what one dish a newcomer to Marco Polo should try and she doesn’t hesitate to recommend the rigatoni pollo affumicato – smoked chicken breasts and leeks in a white wine cream sauce.

That was a creation from our kitchen so you wouldn't find that on another menu in Newcastle," she explains. "It’s been on the menu for about two decades now!

Salmon Plate at Marco Polo Salmon Plate at Marco Polo

One of the most notable things about Marco Polo is quite how big it is – the Dean Street location is huge, probably the biggest independent restaurant in the north-east – but it still feels intimate.

It makes us really popular with large groups,” Margot says. We had a wedding in here on Saturday and a lot of people use us for their big celebrations as well. There have been countless proposals here, probably one every other weekend. People choose us for all sort of things. They’ll choose us because they remember it from when they were kids, there’s a nostalgia attached to it.

Margot and her staff are clearly proud of Marco Polo’s longevity and excited about their anniversary. It’s certainly a brilliant milestone for the restaurant and for Newcastle’s restaurant scene. So let’s all raise a glass to the biggest little Italian in town.

Marco Polo is located at 33 Dean Street, Newcastle upon Tyne and is open 5pm 'til late Monday to Thursday and from 12pm 'til late Friday and Saturday. Find out more at

Related tags

Report incorrect information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.

Please read our Cookie policy.