FORNO CINQUECENTO HAS A VERY SPECIAL OVEN
AND A LICENCE TO COOK REAL NEAPOLITAN PIZZA
74 Dame Street
Phone: 01 679 4555
Irish Daily Mail
31 March 2018
The pizza of Naples is a very specific thing and the people of that remarkable city take it very seriously indeed.
The team behind Forno 500 in Dublin didn’t want a prefabricated oven, none of which come cheap, and found an artisan firm from Naples itself and persuaded them to come to Dublin and work their magic.
The persuasion wasn’t easy. It took the better part of a year and nine one-tonne pallets of raw materials to get what they wanted. The Italians arrived, set to work, shooed everyone out of the kitchen lest their secrets be revealed to the world. In ten long working days they built the oven from Campanian bricks held together by mortar made from the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius.
One suspects that Forno 500 (cinquecento, please!) will have to sell a lot of pizzas before this behemoth of the kitchen starts to pay its way.
However, their efforts have been recognised by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the only restaurant in Ireland to be so honoured. The regulations are very strict, right down to the flour, tomatoes, cheese, every ingredient and technique.
The 500 refers to the temperature, in centigrade, within the dome of the oven. It’s this hot so as to be able to cook the genuine pizza of Naples in the prescribed 90 seconds.
Of course, there’s more to this restaurant – and it’s very much a restaurant rather than just a pizzeria – than this. So we decided to take a pretty far-reaching look at the menu.
There was a soup of the day, a pleasant enough very thick vegetable affair. There were calamari rings, breaded and deep-fried, with a pleasantly punchy tomato sauce. And a delicious but highly unconventional riff on carpaccio that, frankly, looked more like a beef tagliata. Relatively thick slices of very rare (not the usual very thin and raw) beef were served cold, anointed with truffle oil and Parmesan, served with rocket. It was juicy, full of flavour but not carpaccio as it’s understood in the world of gastronomy. And we liked it.
A risotto of wild mushrooms – dried porcini with good, earthy flavour – was unconventional too while being very pleasant to eat. In texture it was capable of sitting up rather than the true Veneto version that slumps, almost more soup than solid, and was enriched with Italian sausage. The rice was perfectly cooked – none of the chalkiness that some chefs think is al dente – and it made a good dish if not entirely as expected.
Lasagne is a candidate for Most Abused Dish in The World so it’s always a good indicator of what an Italian restaurant is about. Here it was almost perfect: a glorious ragu, a béchamel with just enough nutmeg, the whole thing properly light and bright but sadly let down by the fresh pasta which had become just too soft, having lost that essential slight bite that the best fresh pasta always has.
And, so to pizza, which was ordered by my twelve-year-old guest who has an asbestos palate. The Piccante certainly lived up to its name, fiery with spicy sausage to an extent that would floor a lot of grown-ups, but she demolished it.
It was indeed, the genuine Neapolitan article with its blistered fringe retaining just the right amount of elasticity (sorry if this sounds pedantic but with an oven like this it’s important that the pizza is perfect); the body of the pizza, so to speak, had the floppy, foldable consistency of the real thing. And, another Neapolitan trope: the toppings were not piled on but added in just the right quantities so that you’re always aware that this is a pizza not some kind of pie.
Full marks, Forno 500. And I have to say I was greatly relieved to be able to report this.
Onwards through the menu. There was a bread and butter pudding of sheer delight (and, I suppose, surprise): one of the lightest I’ve ever had, with a silky, delicate custard. And deep-fried balls of ricotta mixed with flour and fortified with fresh, sharp orange. Plus a chocolate fondant, that restaurant cliché of the 1990s but done with truly dark, bitter chocolate and with just the right amount of ooze.
The bill, including a bottle of wine for the two adults and two mocktails for Zara, the fire eater, came to €130. Service was utterly charming.