140 Baggot Street Lower
Phone: (01) 676 6848
A major addition to proper pizza and pasta in Dublin, all served in a buzzy, fun atmosphere at gentle prices and with lots of spritz from the bar. Serious cooking meets pure fun.
There’s something very authentic about Cirillo’s. You can actually smell it as you enter this small, exceptionally busy restaurant close to St Stephen’s Green. It’s the mingled aromas of good cooking; of properly proved pizza dough, tomato sauce that has not been rushed or poured from a can; there’s a touch of smoke, a savoury tang in the air.
There’s also a palpable air of fun, underlined by the small bar which dispenses, in inverse proportion to its physical scale, the most generous variations on the noble Italian tradition of the spritz that most of us are ever likely to encounter. Personally, I’m a stick in the mud, returning always to Campari and Aperol which they do with aplomb.
So, the spritzes represent the sense of fun and hospitality while the staff, young and quick on their feet, embody it with a real sense of cheerfulness.
But there’s genuine substance here too. The average reader would be surprised, or more likely shocked, to realise how many restaurants buy virtually everything on the menu ready-made only to stick every dish in the industrial microwave before serving.
At Cirillo’s everything is made fresh: the bread, the desserts, even the ice cream (I wonder how many Dublin restaurants, even the best ones, can say that?) The pizza dough for the vera pizza Napolitana – the genuine Neapolitan article – takes 30 hours to prove, the kind of thing that would give lesser restaurateurs a breakdown. The pasta is all fresh, made daily and you can tell: it has the al dente bite of pasta that has been cooked from raw, not from dried.
A word about the pizzas. In a city where really good pizza is confined to a tiny handful of outlets, Cirillo’s stands out. They brought in their wood-fired pizza oven from Naples and they very wisely also imported, if you like, the Neapolitan style of pizza which is quite different from the stuff we’re used to in Ireland (even allowing for the fact that the stuff we’re used to is, frankly, not very good).
The bubbled rim and the generous quantity of tomato and modest amount of mozzarella means the real deal. Authenticity. But there’s more. The genuine Neapolitan pizza is cooked for no more than 90 seconds! Can you imagine? This requires a temperature just south of 500ºC, releasing the stored energy from decades of sunshine in the Irish oak and ash logs that fuel the oven. Half a thousand degrees! Everything happens very quickly, in the twinkling of an eye.
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, even if that’s really giving in.
Dublin is not often hot, is poor in spots and there’s a lot of messing about in regard to food. But not at Cirillo’s where they also keep it very affordable, certainly by capital city standards.
In addition to outstanding pizza and proper pasta, they also do risotto as it should be (viz. with each grain of rice cooked right through, just; not chalky), good arancini and very decent antipasti. Puddings are, essentially, home cooking with plenty of Italian flair. The chocolate truffle cake is a case in point.
In addition to a few real beers there’s a short wine list that is 100% Italian, as it should be, and there’s a remarkable number of names to conjure with considering the size and style of the place, including Allegrini, Anselmi, Endrizzi, Farnese and Librandi.