Ristorante Romano
12 Capel Street
Dublin 1
01 872 6868

Irish Daily Mail
20 January 2018

I hadn’t been to Romano’s for almost ten years and I returned there, on a cold, wet January evening, hoping that nothing much would have changed. The siren call of proper, handmade pasta is what brought me there.

And, indeed, nothing had changed.

Or was there a very subtle change? Romano’s has always been one of the best value places to eat in the capital and, if anything, it may offer – relatively speaking – even better value right now. Restaurant prices have been slowly creeping upwards, no doubt thanks to increased overheads, and nowhere is this more evident than on the wine list.

Not only does Romano’s offer an early bird three-course menu for a staggeringly affordable €14.95 from 5pm to 7.30pm and all night on Mondays and Tuesdays, you can have half a litre of decent house wine for a tenner! The dearest wine is €23, less than bog standard house wine in many restaurants these days.

The eponymous Romano Morelli is a generous man. When I asked him how he did it, he replied that he has no mortgage – his grandad bought the premises after the War – and he lives above the shop. He also clearly loves offering hospitality almost as much as he loves cycling.

The family business here was originally the old Hiberno-Italian combination of chipper and café that used to be so common along O’Connell Street before doughnut shops and coffee houses became an obsession. Like virtually all the Italian families who brought fish and chips to Ireland in the last century, the Morellis came from Frosinone, between Naples and Rome.

By the 1980s Romano had taken over and decided to do something different, turning the place into a proper restaurant, forsaking the deep-frier for more authentically Italian staples of pasta and pizza. And it has been thus ever since.

Now, I don’t want you to run away with the idea that Romano’s is like, say Dunne & Crescenzi or Terra Madre where the cooking is determinedly authentic and regional. Romano’s is basic but brilliant and has some of the best pasta you will ever find on this island. But more of that anon.

We started with a thick, well-seasoned and appropriately intense tomato and basil soup, and that grand old staple which I have not seen in a restaurant for ages: prosciutto and melon. The melon was ripe, the prosciutto generous, sweet and salty, wrapped around wedges of the fruit.

Then came an “Italian Job” pizza with the most delicate and crisp of crusts, the dough having imperceptibly merged with the simple, impeccable combination of tomato, a little mozzarella and discs of spicy sausage.

Spaghetti carbonara was, to be pedantic about it, carbonara as it is understood in Ireland, i.e. involving cream rather than semi-cooked egg yolk. The late Paolo Tullio was a purist about this and you can read about how I cooked his recipe for the classic version here.

Romano’s version was different but delicious, featuring a creamy sauce with plenty of cheese and pancetta and some thinly sliced mushroom (and thus being closer, in my mind, to an alfredo). The star was, of course, the pasta which had the al dente chewiness that you only really get with the proper, fresh stuff made with eggs. Using dried spaghetti your timing has be to the nanosecond and even then it will never rival the real thing.

Deeply satisfied at this stage, I was persuaded to share a portion of exceptionally good tiramisu, made and presented exactly as it should be, without any bells and whistles: just sponge, whipped mascarpone and lots of espresso (and no booze, which is a travesty in this dish). Tiramisu is derived, it seems, from the Italian for “pick me up” and I can report that it certainly worked for us.

With excellent espressos, mineral water and a bottle of Chianti Classico the bill for this indulgent feast for two came to… can you guess?

Including lovely warm, attentive service it came to €55.90.