The Malting Tower
Phone: 01 662 4199
Irish Daily Mail
28 March 2015
Eating at what is, in effect, one of Dublin’s newest restaurants, I was reminded of one of comedian Alan Carr’s best lines. Recalling his upbringing he says “I was middle class, but I was hard. Kind of al dente.”
Anyway, we’ll come to that in due course.
Pizza e Porchette, which used to be Bridge Bar & Grill and, indeed, something else after that, has become Osteria Lucio. It may seem confusing but this curious space beneath the railway arch that supports much of Grand Canal Quay station is well worth noting.
Ronan Ryan, late of Town Bar & Grill, took the place over last year with Ross Lewis of Chapter One as a kind of power behind the throne. Its glorious wood-fired oven was soon producing some of the best pizza in these islands.
Now, Ross has stepped forward, partnered with another Michelin-starred chef, his friend Luciano Tona, recently retired as Head Master Chef at ALMA, The international School of Italian Cuisine in Parma.
Now, I can see what you’re thinking. Another fancy, expensive restaurant to help us wave goodbye to the recession.
You could not be more wrong. It’s about the two men’s love of hand-crafted food (okay, I’ll say it: artisan food) and seasonal fresh produce (and we’ll draw a veil over the asparagus on the menu which, if it’s not Peruvian, I am).
Above all, it’s about simple cooking, using great ingredients and keeping prices tethered to the ground on which most of us walk. This is a restaurant in which you feel comfortable enough to stick your arms on the table.
It’s also such a blessed relief to find Italian food (or, at the very least, Italian inspired) food that doesn’t involve a taste of the trattoria, an abundance of tomato sauce and a heavy oregano habit.
Take the ciccheti with which we kicked off our dinner. These are, if you like, Italian tapas, for which Venice is famous. Donna Leon’s Commisario Brunetti, you may remember, is as addicted to them as he is to espresso ristretto.
The star in a glowing firmament was described thus on the menu: salt baked celeriac with pancetta, walnut pesto, apple and grated egg. In a curious sense, it didn’t taste of any of these ingredients; instead they came together in some kind of alchemy to produce a sense of savoury deliciousness that, frankly, puts yer usual umami in the ha’penny place. This is a dish that has to be tasted to be understood.
Little arancini (deep-fried balls of risotto) were at least as good as the average nonna makes and perfectly flavoured with radicchio and gorgonzola, while olives with orange and fennel were made even better by spending a short spell in the wood-fired oven. Hot, smoky, arrestingly different each was a depth charge of flavour.
Little triangles of salty, crisp pizza base made one wonder why we don’t see this kind of thing more often.
The earthiness of the menu was perfectly showcased in our main courses. A dish of ricotta gnocchi were as rich as Saudi Arabia but lightened with wilted baby spinach leaves and a tomato sauce that was sharp, intense and chilli hot, a clever twist on a classic.
Tagliatelle was impeccable. It had the distinctive and precise slight resistance to the teeth comes only with fresh pasta. You never get quite the same effect with the dried stuff, no matter how good it is and no matter how accurate your timing is.
The perfectly al dente tagliatelle was partnered with something so simple but so rare in restaurants that it lives on in my memory. This was a lamb ragu, an ovine Bolognese, if you like, but one that was cooked for so long and with what I suspect was a lot of red wine, that it turned into a kind of earthy, deep, warming, comforting, rich embrace. It made me contemplate the many horrors that masquerade as ragu but we’ll draw a veil over that.
Desserts? Well, of course we did. Purely in the interests of being able to file a comprehensive report, as I’m sure you will understand.
I love the trattoria cliché that is tiramisu but only when it is lifted, bodily, out of that oversweet and stodgy category of culinary crimes. The one here was supreme, the richness cut by the coffee and the lack of sugar. And, needless to say, no bloody Tia Maria, forsooth!
Chocolate bonet, dark, concentrated and jelly-like came with blood orange and an Amaretto crumb that provided just the right counter-texture.
And, needless to say, the coffee was perfect.
With aperitifs, a bottle of Chianti and mineral water, the bill for this feast of Italian authenticity came to just under €120.
We’re seeing the first stirrings of innovation with wine in Dublin restaurants and Osteria Lucio weighs in with a great idea: three glasses of wine, chosen by the sommelier to compliment your meal, for €20. It’s a very compact list with Prosecco at €7.50 a glass or €29.50 a bottle. Our Chianti Borghi, juicy and cherry-scented, is €34 or €7.75 a glass and there’s a delicious Barbera, Guidobono, for €38.