Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Bite, Dublin 2
Fish and chips, that classic dish of the UK and Ireland, is unknown in Italy, despite the fact that generations of Italians have purveyed the 'one and one' to the Irish for nigh on 200 years.
I say fish and chips are unknown in Italy but that's not strictly speaking true. It's known in the tiny southern Italian town of Casalattico, where, during the summer months, the town council operates a fish and chips outlet by the football pitch.
Before that piece of information can make any sense, you need to know that, although Casalattico today has a population of only about 800 people, more than 2,400 of its ex-inhabitants and their descendants live in Ireland.
You'll recognise the names -- Fusco, Forte, Macari, Di Vito, Borza, Aprile, Cafolla -- because you'll have seen them above the takeaways that sell fish and chips.
What this long history proves is that the immigrant Italians spotted that there was a living to be made selling fish and chips, and that the Irish have a great fondness for fish and chips.
This may seem an obvious conclusion, but it took Ronan Ryan -- formerly of Town Bar and Grill -- to spot that there was nowhere in Dublin city centre for people to eat fish and chips in the sort of surroundings that the metropolitan 30-somethings would consider cool enough to be seen in.
So that's what Ronan's done -- his new restaurant, Bite, is where you can eat fish and chips while spotting the celebrities at other tables.
The night we were there, we found Yvonne Keating and Eamonn Dunphy. It's busy, buzzy, uber trendy, and there's a great outdoor smoking terrace for the socially unreconstructed among you.
To feel at ease in such surroundings, I needed the right company -- preferably urbane sophisticates -- so I met up with the stylish and blonde Marian Kenny, who had been doing a spot of wardrobe replacement, and fashion guru Ian Galvin, who had been helping her with that arduous task.
With those two for company, I felt I could hold my head high.
We met on the smoking terrace and, despite being offered a table indoors, it was warm enough to stay put, so the smokers were able to enjoy a cigarette after the meal.
Bite is where the old George's Bistro used to be in South Frederick Street, so there are three separate dining rooms with the smoking terrace upstairs, plus the downstairs room where the piano bar was in the old George's days.
On the mid-week night that I met up with Marian and Ian, every one of those rooms was packed.
The menu in Bite is a study in minimalism. Very few dishes, none of them complex, and all priced to sell. I mean, when did you last see a main course on a dinner menu for €11.95?
The same is true of the very exiguous wine list, probably the shortest list in Dublin, but you can buy a bottle of Prosecco for €20. That's the lowest price I've seen for bubbles for a long time.
There were four starters on the menu and the only one we didn't order was the crab cocktail.
We started with the fried mozzarella balls for Marian, the prawns in a pil-pil sauce for Ian, and the smoked haddock and mussel chowder for me.
I enjoyed my chowder, which was rich and thick; I thought the prawns were also well done, but you would have needed to like chilli. After Ian offered me a taste, I literally lost my voice for a few moments.
But best of all were Marian's mozzarella balls, known in Italy as bocconcini, which had been crumbed and deep-fried. She had eight on her plate, which is a good-sized portion by anyone's standards.
This dish is a good example of what Bite is about -- it's a simple dish that can be cooked easily by any chef. It's very tasty and inexpensive to produce, therefore it can be sold at very moderate prices, in this case €6.95.
The main courses are dominated by fish, not surprisingly. Green cod, otherwise known as pollack, lemon sole, sea trout and yellow-fin tuna are the listed fish. The menu also tells you that only sustainable fish are used.
I've long been a fan of pollack, a member of the cod family, which is a common fish in coastal waters. Its only drawback is a tendency to spoil quickly, which is why fishmongers have tended to avoid it, but when it's fresh it's a fine fish.
Carnivores are catered to as well, but only if you like chicken. It's offered two ways -- barbecued or wild-garlic glazed -- and there's also a vegetarian option.
Curiously, the longest list on the menu is the side order list, which has 10 options, including the interesting truffle and Parmesan fries.
For our mains, we ordered the barbecued chicken for Marian, the lemon sole for Ian and the pollack for me.
Marian's chicken came with fries, but Ian's and mine didn't, so we ordered the truffle and Parmesan fries and the spinach with new-season garlic.
Like the starters, the dishes were nicely presented, generous in size and properly cooked.
It turned out that none of us was able to finish what we were given on our plates, still less the truffle fries, which was a pity since they were utterly delicious.
Nonetheless, we did manage a rhubarb panna cotta between the three of us to round off our meal.
There is nothing on this menu that costs more than €15, with the sole exception of the tuna at €17.95, so Bite is pitched firmly at value for money.
I can't think of another menu that offers a main course at dinner for less than €12, which is the price of the cod in beer batter in Bite.
Couple the excellent prices with great service, a good-value wine list and simple, well-made food, then you have a winning formula. Bite will do very well. The bill for the three of us, including a lot of Red Bull, was €106.
On a budget
If ¤11.95 strikes you as too much for battered cod, then go at lunchtime, when the same dish is priced at €9.95. And if all you want is a light snack, then the ‘mini bites’ at €4.95, like a chip butty or tempura squid, would fit the bill.
On a blowout
The only way you can spend significant money in Bite is on drinks. The drinks list has wine on one side and a dozen or so cocktails on the other, ranging from €6.95 to €9.95. Although the wine list is short, you can still find wines listed at more than €40.
Street, Dublin 2
Tel: 01-679 7000