Dunne & Crescenzi
South Frederick Street
Phone: 01 675 9892
Irish Daily Mail
21 May 2016
It didn’t start out as a review. It started as a way of meeting up with our middle daughter’s godparents before her graduation performance at the Samuel Beckett Theatre in TCD. It was, if you like, just to be lunch and a chat for an hour or so, somewhere central, casual but good.
Now, the trouble with turning such an experience into a review – and I’m doing so because we had so much fun and it was so good I just had to tell people about it – is the matter of detail.
My usual modus operandi when on professional manoeuvres is sometimes a bit embarrassing for my more sensitive companions. It involves a quick picture of each dish on my phone and a note made in – literally – a little black book. I like to think that nobody notices this kind of eccentric behaviour but I’m not sure.
I once started taking very discreet notes in a London restaurant – just for my own use – and found myself being love-bombed by the staff and the kitchen. They may have thought I was a new Michelin inspector.
Anyway, if you don’t know it, Dunne & Crescenzi is a big, buzzing restaurant that is genuinely Italian. It’s not what the Americans call a “red sauce joint”. The brainchild of Dubliner Eileen Dunne, who studied and lived in Rome for many years, and her Italian husband, Stefano, this is the real deal. The place even smells right.
Eileen produced a delightful cookbook last year, her second. It’s called Festa and it’s essentially a series of recipes for celebrations throughout the year.
As we sat down together – having acquired a fifth member of the party along the way – I realised that what we were doing was celebrating. Celebrating our daughter’s achievement and celebrating our long and abiding friendship with her godparents. And suddenly it seemed that Dunne & Crescenzi was exactly the right place to do so.
It’s a place where you can put your elbows on the table, laugh uproariously (we raised the decibel level considerably) and let what remains of one’s hair down. It was so right.
And then there was the food. Here’s where my grasp of detail starts to elude me because, well, I was off duty, enjoying the company of people very dear to me, in other words doing what people are meant to do in restaurants.
Two of us went for one of the daily specials (I always do on my regular visits here) and it involved little pasta parcels filled with, I think, porcini and ham) served up in a delightfully savoury, creamy sauce. The pasta had proper bite, the balance of flavours and textures were spot on. It was not just like being in Italy; it was like being in somewhere really good in Italy.
(I emailed Eileen Dunne to ask what exactly I had eaten. It turns out to have been cappelletti al prosciutto in salsa di limone e crema di ceci e rosmarino or cappelletti filled with prosciutto di Parma in a chickpea and lemon sauce perfumed with rosemary. See what I mean?).
But Dunne & Crescenzi is not all about pasta (although it’s a shame not to try it). One of us had the fresh Tuscan sausage with borlotti beans in a rich, terracotta coloured sauce slowly cooked in the oven (or forno; it had the look something from a forno). It was an exercise in comfort food, intense and chunky at the same time.
Another had a “stack” of cold roasted aubergine, smoky and tender, interleaved with creamy mozzarella (none of your bog standard, plasticky mozzarella here) with a salad of rocket: simple, subtly flavoured with lots of texture and a very modest payload of carbohydrates.
Yet another had the simplest dish of all: spaghetti (or was it the thicker spaghettoni?) in a sauce of tomato with fluffy Parmesan liberally sprinkled on top. He mentioned that it was better than the version he eats regularly at the new and fashionable Padella in London’s Borough Market. Praise indeed.
Only one of us had a dessert, the benchmark tiramisu in Ireland, the classic and surprisingly unsweet combination of finger biscuits, espresso and mascarpone.
There was plenty of sparkling mineral water, strong coffees and a bottle of excellent, juicy Chianti amidst all the chat and laughter that began to make us feel almost Italian. Our part of the bill came to an impressively reasonable €70.
Yes, we had a bit of a festa on a Thursday lunchtime and Dunne & Crescenzi, ever dependable, proved to be just the right place for it.