52 Dawson Street
Phone: 01 633 3957
A big, thriving restaurant in the heart of the city, serving solid and sound Italian staples and offering a terrific concise wine selection. Good deli too.
Carluccio’s is where I would often fetch up after school to drink milky coffee and self-consciously smoke Gitanes or Gauloises with moody friends. In those days, it was a basic coffee shop that did salads and rolls. Nobody had any notion that Graham O'Sullivan's, as it was called then, would become an expensive piece of real estate.
You see, when Carluccio's opened there a couple of years ago the reported annual rent – now reduced somewhat, I gather – was enough to make your eyes water. Even at the height of the so-called boom.
Now, Carrluccio's is part of a franchise chain (the only outlets outside Britain and Dublin are in Quatar, the United Arab Emirates and, strange as it may seem, Turkey). Like all chains, it can vary and Carluccio's possibly varies more than most in that some genuine cooking goes on in the kitchens; it's not just a case of re-heating pre-packed meals, something that happens in a lot of non-chain establishments. Wherever you have cooking, you have variation. That's the nature of the thing.
Now, I have it on good authority that Antonio Carluccio himself thinks that the Dublin outpost of the empire is one of the best. The fine people who run it doubtless, like Francis Urquhart, could not possibly comment.
Anyway, these days it seems to run like a well-oiled machine. I repair there for coffee on a very regular basis (and for the delightful sweet things that go so well with coffee) but I also love the pasta dishes (their pesto is outstanding) and the decency of the wines and the generosity of the glassfuls.
Founded by Antonio Carluccio in 1999, Carluccio's does simple, straightforward Italian food as distinct from the red sauce trattoria stuff that you get in "Italian" restaurants all over Ireland (where a tin of tomatoes solves every culinary problem). Carluccio sold the business but is now involved once more and his return to the empire some years ago has galvanised the performance.
Menus vary across the dozens of branches. In Dublin I salute their minestrone, stuzichini (small plates for sharing, like verdura fritta, a fritto misto of vegetables or simple grissini wrapped in prosciutto), the utterly correct carbonara (no cream!), their gnocchi with gorgonzola and spinach (probably my default dish if I’m in a hurry) and one of my nearest and dearest swears by the calves’ liver.
Curiously enough, one of the best things about this big, busy restaurant is the short but excellent selection of wine, from the basic but rather lovely house offeringsthe Sicilian white and red blends from Settesoli at a very keen price, to the super-ripe Planeta Bianca (yes, Sicily features big) and juicy but elegant Volpi Barbera.
In a nutshell, Carluccio’s has evolved very nicely over the years it has been in Dawson Street and it has become better and better. It offers consistently good dishes at reasonable prices and cracking coffee. And don’t forget the deli range and wine to take away. In the Summer, if we have one, the outside tables really do have a touch of the true Italy about them.
I bet it’s true about Antonio’s view of the Dublin outpost.