Refuel: Pinocchio's * *
Luas Kiosk, Ranelagh Road, Dublin 6. Telephone: 01 4970111
My love of Italian food has been going through something of a renaissance lately. It started with a stunning meal in Il Vicoletto, which inspired me to stock up on some good pasta, a case of Valpolicella and a €25 bottle of aged balsamic vinegar. T
his, in turn, gave rise to fantasies about holidaying in Liguria, and before long I was pinning every Italophile I could find to a chair and extracting intelligence from them about the best, unsung, Italian restaurants in Ireland.
I was told about La Cucina in Limerick by the Piteog, while the Italian Millionaire was fullsome in his praise of Il Meletto in Dunboyne. The Elder Lemon kindly offered to drive me to and from Via Veneto in Enniscorthy. It would, he said, be a pleasure for us both. I accepted the invitation and, while we were arranging it, I was left with a longing, no stronger than that ... a desiderio ardente, to dine all'italiana. And it was this urge that drew me to Pinocchio's -- a place I'd heard positively, but not passionately, endorsed.
I went for dinner on Sunday evening with The Editor. We were the only table in the place, bar one. Pinocchio's is the kind of place that needs a crowd to crank up the atmosphere. The seats are hard, the lighting is less than flattering, there's lots of tilework and the Luas rumbles overhead. On the plus side, the staff are Italian and charming.
Pinocchio's menu is spread over many pages and is mixed in with information about hen and stag parties, cooking classes and wine tasting. No wonder I was drawn to the simplicity of the specials board, a lazy habit encouraged by our waiter offering me a half portion of each pasta special.
The choice of wine by the glass was somewhat limited: two reds, two whites, and Prosecco. I drank Frascati, while The Editor had Pinot Grigio. Both were fine, though at €6.50, the Frascati was arguably a euro more expensive that it ought to have been. A complimentary tasting of ham-filled focaccia helped scupper my rising indignation.
I kicked off with a towering bowl of steamed mussels, which seemed to be a coalition of pale, fat specimens and small, ruddy chaps. I found this lack of uniformity disconcerting. Despite their inconsistent size and texture, they were tasty, the tomato sauce was light, with notes of parsley and peppery subtext.
The Editor's chicken strudel was less involved than expected, rather than layered pastry, she was presented with a creamy mixture of chicken and peppers betwixt two large puffs of pastry. It was a savoury sfogliatine, a giant vol-au-vent, a comforting amalgam of starch and sauce that failed to deliver in terms of flavour.
Monkfish was advertised as being served with a crust, which turned me off, but didn't deter The Editor. It was, in reality, a mere dusting. Yet, it had a strong, and not altogether successful influence on the fish. The "crust" contained Parmesan, which gave the meaty monkfish a vaguely sour flavour. It would have been better served with a simple squeeze of lemon juice.
The half and half pasta deal was essentially a pig in a poke. What I got was this: the tail end of a white lasagne: pasta, potatoes, bechamel, pesto. I was expecting potato gratin, but the spuds were cubed, which gave the thing a tortilla-like quality. It came with a half portion of very good tagliatelle in an unremarkable tomato and basil sauce, whose star attraction -- spicy Ventricina sausage -- barely put in an appearance.
Both our desserts were peculiar. Strawberry cheesecake was pink and horridly sweet, with an inch of cream cheese spread across a burned chocolate base. Apple strudel saw the puff pastry rectangles make a comeback. They worked better as a sweet sfogliatine, but the custard filling was bland.
I've an inkling we caught Pinocchio's on the hop. Every restaurant has bad nights, but there are things you cannot pass off: the prices are too high and the music is too loud. There's no doubt that Pinocchio's is authentic, but doesn't mean it's above average.
THE DAMAGE: €96.30 for two starters, two mains, two desserts, and five glasses of wine
ON THE STEREO: Italian crooners
AT THE TABLE: Espatriatos
WHAT TO WEAR: Black
DO SAY: My ears are bleeding
DON’T SAY: I’ll have the pasta - with pasta