l’Officina

Dundrum Town Centre
Dublin 16
http://www.dunneandcrescenzi.com/

A night out with old friends Joe and Elva is always a highlight of my year. We only get to see each other once or twice a year when I visit Ireland. After 25 years our evenings revolve around good food (often served in their own hectic kitchen), good wine and plenty of conversation.

A beautiful Irish summer evening saw Elva and I looking fabulous in summer fashion, and Joe looking buff and suntanned. Going out with Joe and Elva can be dangerous as they are both incredibly good-looking, and blessed with deep suntans after (it seems) five minutes in the sun. They both look more Mediterranean than Irish, and indeed Joe was once almost stopped from leaving Turkey as they suspected him of being a local trying to leave on a fake Irish passport…

Given the summer warmth and the fabulous outfits we opted for eating out: Italian seemed a perfect choice. Dublin’s Dunn and Crescenzi mini-empire now includes l’Officina, in the new Dundrum shopping centre within a stone’s throw of Harvey Nick’s. Dunn and Crescenzi are known for their excellent ingredients, slow food philosophy and wonderful atmosphere, and l’Officina in Dundrum was no exception.

The wine list was impressive but we didn’t linger over it. The house wine flowed as we shared three starters: some delicious bresaola served with rocket and olive oil on sourdough bread, divine bruschetta made from proper sun-ripened tomatoes, and a decent plate of antipasto with plenty of choice. We lingered over every mouthful and the last morsels of each went to the highest bidder.

Elva and I both chose the special for our main: pasta twists cut to the same length as the calamari it was served with, lightly tossed in olive oil, herbs and a hint of chilli. Joe chose a wagyu steak served alone with just a garnish: he actually forgot to order a side, but then decided it would have taken away from his experience.

For a Tuesday night the place was pretty busy which indicated its popularity. People sat outside by the fountain as well as inside in the modern but welcoming restaurant. Italian deli items and packets of coffee beans were stocked on shelves: the restaurant also sells what it serves.

The wait staff were, it seemed, all Italian, and the post-rush dinners they ate as we sat over our coffees looked as sensational as the food we had just been served. Can’t remember the name of the brand of coffee they were serving, but it was really great. Smooth and rich, even the decaf had a kick to it. Happily the waiter didn’t flinch when I asked for a macchiato: the mark (in Ireland) of a genuine Italian eatery.

I look forward to trying the rest of Dunn and Crescenzi’srestaurants next time I am in town.

>Spago Portlaoise

>www.theheritagehotel.com/bar-&-restaurants/spagoitalian-bistro

On our way home from Dingle we stopped late in the evening in Portlaoise looking for some good home-cooked Italian food. Some might say we were being a tad ambitious, but this is 21st century Ireland and I was hopeful. We stumbled upon Spago, a new-ish Italian housed in the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel right in town.

A friendly maitre d’ with a broad Dublin accent seated us in a rustic-looking (but not as far as checked table-cloths) restaurant and immediately served us warm marinated olives, virgin olive oil and sourdough bread. A good start.

We opted for main courses only at that late hour. The two pizzas were freshly made with only the best and freshest toppings. Not too big and perfectly cooked (the Doyles like our pizzas done well). Connor’s chicken and mushroom pasta could have been ordinary but it tasted delicious. Not too creamy and the chicken flavours dominated. I ordered linguine vongole, one of my favourite comfort foods. Tomatoey and with a hint of chilli, I devoured it.

We could not be tempted by the desserts. Mum favours traditional fare such as her favourite, Knickerbocker Glory, and doesn’t go in for the usual Italian treats such as tiramisu. Ashling was sorely tempted but it was getting late. The last-minute coffee I downed was again freshly made and ended a very enjoyable but brief meal. Pity it doesn’t open Sundays or Ashling and Connor’s dad my brother Bernard) would make this a weekend hangout.

nat’s baked beans recipe from bill granger

>We met some friends at a Sunday lunch a few weeks ago, at Ann’s house where everybody brought a dish. Nat kindly gave me her recipe for home-made baked beans, this one from Bill Granger.

Ingredients:
2 tbs olive oil
2 x 400g (14oz) cans cannellini beans
1 garlic clove, sliced
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 small red onion, sliced into thin wedges
250 g (1 punnet) cherry tomatoes

To Serve
1 tsp olive oil
8 slices prosciutto
1 Tbs fresh oregano leaves

Method
Preheat the oven to 200◦C (400◦F/Gas 6).
Place the olive oil, beans, garlic, chilli flakes, onion and tomatoes in a small baking dish and stir to combine.
Loosely cover with foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the onion is tender and the tomatoes slightly shrivelled.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp of olive oil in large frying pan over a medium to high heat and cook the prosciutto until lightly crisp.
Remove and place on paper towels.
Serve the baked beans sprinkled with fresh oregano leaves and the crisp prosciutto.
Serves 4.

Nat used bacon instead of prosciutto and just sliced it and threw it in with the beans to all cook together and it worked well, too.

>Cicciolina’s

>I’ve wanted to eat at this restaurant almost since we arrived here. Another Melbourne institution, this Italian restaurant doesn’t take bookings so you have to choose your moment to dine here. I have crashed a work dinner of Orlando’s here once, but still didn’t feel that I had experienced the full Cicciolina’s thing. So back we went on a chilly Friday night after a hard day’s work trawling the bookstores of Melbourne.

We arrived before seven-thirty and put our names down for a table for three. We were told there was a two hour wait. Amazingly we quickly procured a booth in the back bar and settled down with two glasses of wine, happy to be sitting comfortably after our marathon day out.

With two hours to wait, we scanned the blackboard and ordered an antipasto platter to keep us entertained. It was a pretty good spread: salami and prosciutto, goat’s cheese, grilled mussels, a couple of dips, marinated mushrooms, black olives, sourdough bread.

In the end, we had barely polished off the last morsels when our waiter came and called us into the main restaurant.

The place was buzzing, the atmosphere helps along by the fact that the tables are very close together. I ordered a raviolo stuffed with ox tail to start. Sitting on a bed of spinach, the single stuffed square of pasta looked simple and small, but it was filling. And divine.

For main course, Orlando ordered a fillet steak and Mena a lamb roast. Both looked and smelled great, and they were happy with their choices. Mena was still talking about hers the next day. I chose pasta again: linguine with a spicy ragu which was much more complex than a matriciana sauce, but I couldn’t tell you what was in it. I savoured every mouthful and washed it down with a few glasses of Pizzini sangiovese.

All in all, the experience was fantastic. Even the wait for a table doesn’t have to be too bad if you are lucky to get a seat in the back bar.

Amo Roma

>Nine years ago, in August 1998, I was travelling around Mexico on a Trek America tour with nine or so fellow travellers. One of those fellow travellers was Kaz Kaufman, a Sydneysider, with whom I shared many margaritas under the stars. We remained firm friends, and I was a welcome guest in the home she shared with her partner Phil and dog Renton.

Kaz, incidentally, is allergic to chillies. The merest whiff of one brings her out in blisters. So it was pretty brave of her to travel around Mexico where the words “sin chile” indicate only that the chef should be a little less extravagant with the chillies. It would never dawn on anybody to put NO chilli in anything. Similarly for India and most of the rest of South East Asia, all of which has been extensively traveled by the indomitable Kaz.

So it was this evening that I found myself in in Sydney, meeting Kaz for dinner in Amo Roma, a charming Italian place in the most touristy part of Sydney, the Rocks. You would think it would be a tacky venue, but it was lovely. We sipped salty margaritas in the outdoors dining area on an unusually balmy August (late winter) evening, and put the world to rights.

The staff were simultaneously unobtrusive and attentive, patient with two people more interested in catching up on the gossip than reading the menu. The menu included the standard pasta and pizza fare, plus interesting winter dishes such as slow roasted lamb shanks and chilli-marinated calamari (naturally we didn’t order this one). Kaz chose a simple pizza with mozzarella, anchovies and black olives, while I ordered the lasagne. Both were delicious. The wine list was respectable enough, with a number of Italians wines by the glass. I chose a WA Shiraz.

The gas heaters were switched on just before the chill got too much, so there was no rush. We ordered coffees – incredibly smooth Vittoria espresso – before settling the bill, a respectable $104.

By the time we left the place was almost full. For such a tacky part of town most of the diners seemed like locals meeting up after work. Not bad for the Rocks. I will be back.

>Don Giovannis

>Back to my mum’s favourite Italian on my last Dublin trip, and the waiters are as charming as ever.

We spoke to John, the owner for the past sixteen years, a charming man who recognised us from the photo on the first posting I made last year. Clearly proud of his domain, he credits his success on excellent chefs and personable staff. I saw him greet many of the diners personally, and people obviously come back here again and again because of the friendly atmosphere as much as for the tasty home-style Italian food.

Mum’s steak was perfectly cooked (well, cooked to her liking which is most important), my lasagne was delicious and our home-made soups were a welcome start to a meal on a chilly spring day.

Dining here just days after an expensive (but enjoyable) meal at the Unicorn, I know which one I will be coming back to on my next journey home. See you soon, Don Giovanni!