140 Baggot Street Lower,
Phone: 01 676 6848
Irish Daily Mail
18 June 2016
Years I ago I witnessed a woman in a Dublin restaurant complaining that the globe artichoke that came with her lunch dish was tough. She was quite rude about it and the excellent manager spared her the embarrassment of telling her that the inedible bits are just that: inedible.
When complaining, it’s important to distinguish between “I don’t like this” and “This is wrong, bad, unacceptable”. I mean you can’t blame the restaurant if you try, say, lobster for the first time and it turns out that you simply hate the taste.
Now, I don’t want to set the tone here by talking about complaining; I had nothing at all to complain about in Cirillo’s. On the contrary, we loved it. This restaurant is a vaulable addition to a Dublin already plentifully endowed with places in which to eat, many of them actually very good.
The reason I mention the woman’s struggle with a globe artichoke is because I became acutely aware of the dangers of ignorance, namely my own.
I had not registered that Cirillo’s brought in their wood-fired pizza oven from Naples, so it’s reasonable to assume that the kind of pizzas they do here are Neapolitan. By the time I was admiring the bubbled rim and the generous quantity of tomato and modest amount of mozzarella I was thinking: Gosh, this looks like the real deal. Authentic.
And then I started whinging about the salsiccia being underdone, i.e. not starting the caramelise. Of course, what I had forgotten is that genuine Neapolitan pizza is cooked for no more than 90 seconds! Can you imagine? This requires a temperature just south of 500ºC. Everything happens very quickly, in the twinkling of an eye.
Yes, this was the real deal. Naples is hot, sprawling, poor and way down south. They don’t mess around. You get a relatively thin base that rises at the rim to produce a crust. You get a lot of puréed San Marzano tomatoes, not a lot of cheese and, generally speaking, not a lot else. It’s the Northern Italians who offer an enyclopaedic range of additions. The Neapolitans keep it simple and cheap.
The quick cooking means that the base is barely done, yet blackened on the bottom by the heat. It sags heavily in the middle and requires careful eating. You might even consider a knife and fork.
I still would have preferred if the slices of Italian sausage had just started to caramelise or even scorch at the edges, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this was an exceptional pizza. And the friarelli, which I know and grow at home as cime di rapa or turnip tops were nutty and savoury and added a great deal.
Our other main course was of that glorious pasta casarecce, two-inch lengths of handmade pasta (done in house, as is everything here) with an S-shaped cross section and a twist. It’s one of the best pasta shapes for getting sauces to adhere and I was a bit surprised that it came with shredded ham hock. I thought a more liquid sauce would show Cirillo’s exceptionally fine pasta to better advantage.
The ham hock affair was pleasant and came with lardo (which was a bit lost, to be honest), cavolo nero (which ticks the fashionable box), crispy skin (why not?) “in a carbonara sauce”. The latter made me very suspicious. Would it be cream and Parmesan? No, this had been authentically tossed with beaten egg which emulsified the other ingredients.
It was a somewhat comically over-complicated dish that managed to be very pleasant to eat; but, less would have been more.
Before all this feasting, we had shared a dish of squid rings which were fine but would have been better if their casing of fine breadcrumbs had been crisper. They sagged and, unlike the pizza, sagging doesn’t suit squid. The mayonnaise flavoured with sweet, gentle black garlic was subtly good.
The place, which is very small (it used to be the Black Tie shop) was jammers on a Tuesday evening. Service demonstrated grace and charm under considerable pressure, we were well fed, we lingered for ages and we would happily return.
I like the fact that Cirillo’s does simplicity with enthusiasm. I just think they need to simplify that casarecce and crisp up the squid, sorry, calamari, and all will be a lot more than well.
With wine, mineral water, very good espressos and a lovely “truffle hazelnut cake” that tasted of very posh Nutella and more, the bill came to €94.25. Dublin is a better place for Cirillo’s.