Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Il Fico, Co Kildare
One of the good things about social media websites is that they're a great source of information. Thanks to my Twitter account, I'm getting lots of tips from around the country about where's good to eat.
In the past couple of months, I've had a few tweets telling me about an Italian restaurant in Naas called Il Fico. Most commented on its great-value set meals, so in my ongoing search for good value I felt a visit to Naas was in order. I set off across the Wicklow Mountains with my old friend and neighbour Mike Judd, who spent a year in Tuscany some time ago in Castellina in Chianti. Those 12 months gave him a love and an understanding of Italian cooking. Since we were going to an Italian restaurant, he was the perfect dining companion.
We found Il Fico easily enough at the Dublin end of the main street, and outside an entire wall proclaimed the early-bird menu — two courses for €12.90. Surely great value, and it was available up to 9pm. Inside, we found a long, thin restaurant divided into rooms, each about the size and proportions of a railway carriage. A comfortable waiting lounge was just inside the door and we sat there for a bit while they found us a table. If you have an ear for accents, you'll notice quickly enough that there are no Irish people waiting on tables, and it turned out there were also very few Italians. The chef though was Italian, Sicilian to be exact.
We first turned to the wine list, which was two pages, one of red and one of white. We chose a red, a Primitivo varietal from southern Italy, which was priced at €28.50. That's pretty expensive for a Primitivo wine, so I was thinking to myself it had better be good. We also ordered two half-litres of sparkling water before turning to the menus. What's a little odd about the menus is that the early bird is so cheap, while the à la carte looked quite expensive, for example pasta dishes were around €15. Mike decided that he'd eat from the set menu and left me to make my choices from the à la carte.
He chose prawns to start followed by an arrabbiata pasta dish, while I started with an arancino and followed that with a veal escalope Milanese. I picked the arancino because it's a classic dish from Sicily, a deep-fried breaded rice ball, and I wanted to see what the Sicilian chef could do. Instead of bread, a thin-crust Marinara pizza was brought to the table, already cut into slices. It was good, too, and we tucked into it happily, since it was an authentic dish done well.
The starters arrived and we were impressed. Mike's prawn dish was generous; the prawns were large and properly cooked and the sauce was very tasty.
While Mike enjoyed his prawns, I was equally delighted with the arancino on my plate. About the size and shape of a pear, it was cooked to a golden colour and the sauce that surrounded it tasted exactly like the tomato sauce my granny used to make. It was properly reduced and the flavourings were just right. These were two starters well above the usual standard. The main courses didn't live up to the promise of the starters. Firstly, Mike's pasta dish had a couple of things that weren't right. The pasta itself had the consistency of cheap pasta, slightly chewy, while the tomato sauce had a very definite metallic taste to it.
I thought that was surprising, since the tomato sauce on my starter had been so well done. I'd have expected Mike's sauce to have come from the same base sauce. Mike had also ordered a Greek salad as a side dish, which was pretty much as you'd expect, and was €6.95.
I had quite a large piece of veal on my plate that had been crumbed and fried. Unfortunately, it had been fried for too long and was very much on the dark brown side instead of golden. Overcooked veal tends to dry out and the result was a dish that was edible, but not pleasurable. We turned to the dessert menu. I've said it before, but Italians aren't really good at desserts.
Maybe that's a function of the fact that it's very much a savoury cuisine, but on menus in Italy you don't get much of a choice of desserts. Tiramisu, zabaglione, ice-cream and the ubiquitous macedonia di frutta — fruit salad. That's about it. We decided that we've have a tiramisu between us. Tiramisu is one of the Italian classic dishes and it's a layered cake made of lady-finger biscuits and mascarpone cream, flavoured with coffee and topped off with cocoa powder.
Normally it's got four layers, but the one we were served had just two. That in no way changed the taste, which was precisely as it should have been, but it just looked wrong. After that we asked for an espresso, a cappuccino and the bill. When the bill arrived I was taken aback, as it was just under €100. Given Mike had dined from a €12.90 menu, that looked like too much, so I checked the bill carefully. Somehow, Mike's prawn dish had been charged for twice — once in the set-menu price and then once again individually. It took quite a while to get our waiter to see the mistake, but, once it was clarified, we got a new bill for €88.85.
As we drove home we talked about our meal. Some bits had been very good indeed, while others had failed to hit the mark. What is certainly true is that a two-course dinner for €12.90 is remarkable value.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10
Tel: 045 874 511