Top 30 Italian restaurants in Ireland
Published 11/10/2015 | 02:30
From handmade pastas and crisp pizzas to flavoursome meats, our expert has the best places to get a taste of Italy
1 Unicorn by Fiorentina
Where: 12b Merrion Court, Dublin 2. (01) 662 4757.
Why: The Unicorn first opened in 1938 and in recent years has been through the mill in terms of ownership and management changes. Since earlier this year it has been owned by restaurateur Kristan Burness, and reports are that the kitchen is back on form. Try the pappardelle con coniglio, or the signature dish of a 32oz Bistecca alla Fiorentina with Amalfi lemon and fries priced at €70.
2 Campo de Fiori
Where: 1 Albert Avenue, Bray, Co Wicklow. (01) 276 4257.
Why: Marco Roccasalvo's romantic restaurant has legions of fans happy to make the trip out to Bray to eat his impeccably executed classic Italian dishes. There's a shop too, so visitors can stock up on the authentic ingredients they'll need if they plan on attempting to re-create the food at home.
3 Ciao Bella Roma
Where: 24/25 Parliament Street, Dublin 2. (01) 677 0004.
Why: If you can judge an Italian restaurant by the number of Italians who eat there, then Ciao Bella Roma is the finest in the city. Known as the go-to spot for ex-pats, the menu covers the usual territory of pasta and pizza as well as some more complex dishes, and there's always a good buzz.
4 Dunne & Crescenzi
Where: Branches in Dublin 1, 2, Dundrum, Sandymount, and Kildare Village.
Why: The happy meeting of Eileen Dunne and Stefano Crescenzi in Rome in the early 1990s led to the opening of the first Dunne & Crescenzi restaurant on South Frederick Street in 1999. It is still the mothership, where you'll find simple and comforting dishes made with great ingredients and a fine selection of Italian wine. Each restaurant has a slightly different menu that reflects the personality of its individual head chef.
Where: 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2. (01) 678 8872.
Why: Neither Simon Barrett nor Liz Matthews describes their tiny restaurant on Merrion Row as purporting to be authentically Italian, but their sensibility is Italian, that's for sure, in that they are generous hosts and know their food, and everything that you will eat there will be delicious. The very relaxed ambience makes it easy to linger too long. Don't miss the spinach malfatti - literally translated as 'badly made' - if these divine pillows of pasta adorned with crisp sage and chanterelles are on the menu. The same goes for the red wine prunes with mascarpone.
Where: 1 The Parade, Kilkenny. (056) 776 1575.
Why: The Cavaliere family's Rinuccini restaurant has been serving classic Italian food to the good people of Kilkenny for over 25 years now, and remains as popular as when it first opened. Antonio Cavaliere came to Ireland from Lazio at the age of 15 and trained at Dublin's legendary Quo Vadis. Expect traditional Italian food, beautifully presented, in a stylish room.
Where: Branches in Terenure, Ballsbridge, and Stillorgan, Dublin.
Why: The bad news is that you can't book a table at Base, the good news is that they deliver. Owner Shane Crilly takes the art of pizza-making very seriously, and travelled to Naples to perfect his skills. Back in Dublin, he insists that the dough is proved for 48 hours to ensure the optimum thin and crisp base for pizzas that include the Pesaro, featuring fennel sausage, red onions, and Gorgonzola topped with fresh rocket.
8 Giovannelli Restaurant
Where: Lower Bridge Street, Killorglin, Co Kerry. (087) 623 2497.
Why: Antoinette and Daniele Giovannelli were delighted to receive the endorsement of the Michelin Guide 2016 a few weeks ago, with a coveted Bib Gourmand for their intimate restaurant in Killorglin. The Giovannellis say that they do not consider their restaurant to be Italian, but that chef Daniele cooks his food - ingredients include Kerry lamb, fillet steak, lobster, shellfish and freshly-caught fish - in a simple, authentic Italian way. He also makes fresh pasta, including assorted stuffed ravioli, by hand from scratch each morning.
Facebook: Giovannelli Restaurant
Where: 12 Dame Court, Dublin 2. (01) 633 7727.
Why: Located next door to Odessa and above Honest to Goodness on Dame Court, Honest serves some of the best pizzas in Dublin. Honestly! They make good use of their wood-fired oven, using it to cook garlic for the aioli that they serve alongside their wood-fired chilli prawns, as well as for pizza bases that have just the right balance between char and chew. Good value too, and on Friday and Saturday nights you'll find DJ Gerry Molumby playing vinyl.
Where: Main Street, Dromahair, Co Leitrim. (071) 916 4728.
Why: No relation to John Farrell's Dublin city centre restaurant of the same name, Bernadette O'Shea's little restaurant in Dromahair is not entirely Italian, but it does serve the excellent pizzas that have been Ms O'Shea's trademark since she ran the legendary Truffles in Sligo back in the 1990s, as well as a smattering of other interesting dishes from around the world. Pear and blue cheese is one that tells you that the offering here is just that little bit different, there's also cannelloni and polenta for when the circumstances demand something substantial.
Facebook: Luna Restaurant
Where: 208 Rathmines Road Lower, Dublin 6. (01) 496 8096.
Why: Pizzas, certainly, and very good they are too, including versions for coeliacs about which the reports are excellent, but also pasta and other less carb-heavy options. A couple of weeks ago Manifesto was deep-frying stuffed courgette flowers to beat the band - not your average run of the mill pizzeria so.
12 La Cucina
Where: University Court, Castletroy, Limerick. (061) 333 980.
Why: Sit up at the window counter or perch on a stool at one of the high tables, the simple interior of Lorraine Fanneran and Bruno Coppola's little Limerick gem belies the quality of the food on offer. On a recent lunch stop-off, we got a stunner of a pizza and an exquisite orrecchiete pasta special of the day with Italian sausage, broccoli, and plenty of chilli in a broth that spoke subtly of wine and good stock. At night they turn down the lights and turn up the romance; lucky Limerick.
13 Da Mimmo
Where: 148 North Strand, Dublin 3. (01) 856 1714.
Why: After first opening in Dun Laoghaire, next door to the Purty Kitchen, Tino Fusciardi brought his restaurant northside, taking over his parents' fish and chip shop on the North Strand four years ago. He has built a loyal following for his authentic pasta and pizza dishes and a small but perfectly formed wine list. The pizzas are amongst the best you'll find in Dublin, the spaghetti vongole is on the money, and the good news for lazy gourmands is that Da Mimmo delivers.
14 Napoli Café, Deli & Restaurant
Where: 5 Castle Terrace, Monkstown, Cork.
Why: Another recommendation from Cork food writer Joe McNamee, this simple little café, in Monkstown by the water, is daytime only and serves, he says, "some very nice homemade confectioneries and desserts". Check Napoli's Facebook page for details of its occasional evening pop-ups, with dinner priced at €25. The nearby Pronto is another gem, serving a small range of what McNamee describes as "splendidly-priced cakes/confectioneries, ice creams and deli items including canoli, codine, and biscotti". These two are the real deal.
Facebook: Napoli Italian Delicatessen
15 Pasta Fresca
Where: 4 Chatham St, Dublin 2. (01) 679 2402.
Why: May Frisby's is one of the longest-standing Italian restaurants in Dublin. Perennially popular, the casual premises off Grafton St serves fresh pasta made by hand on the premises each day by its own chefs, and keeps its regular customers very happy with a menu that includes a mean spaghetti Bolognese and a range of pizzas including a hangover-busting weekend brunch version featuring black pudding, bacon and a fried egg. Ooof.
16 Via Veneto
Where: Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. (053) 923 6929.
Why: Paolo Fresilli was the chef chosen by his countryman, Weekend's late restaurant critic late Paolo Tullio, to prepare the food for his daughter's wedding, so it's safe to assume that Italian food in Ireland doesn't come any more authentic than it does at Via Veneto. Fresilli prepares traditional dishes using the best of local produce. Don't head to Via Veneto if you want pasta with chicken.
17 Terre Madre
Where: 13a Bachelor's Walk, Dublin 1. (01) 873 5300.
Why: Simple food at modest prices served in an unpretentious room - no wonder Terre Madre is as busy as it is. Don't go expecting a vast selection of dishes from which to choose, but do go if you want proper Italian food made with integrity and carefully-sourced ingredients that tastes as it would in a simple trattoria in Italy and a menu that changes with the seasons. Expect rich game-based ragus as we head into autumn.
Where: 109 Coliemore Road, Dalkey, Co Dublin. (01) 284 7280.
Why: Ragazzi is a Dalkey institution, as popular with local celebrities as it is with civilians for whom the restaurant is the default option whenever there's a birthday or other family occasion to celebrate. Go for the pizzas, certainly, because they are very good, but also try some of the fish dishes, which vary according to what's been landed that day.
19 Osteria Lucio
Where: Clanwilliam Terrace, Dublin 2. (01) 662 4199.
Why: You'll find excellent food at Osteria Lucio (which occupied the premises formerly home to Pizza e Porchetta and before that Bridge and before that …). This is Ross Lewis' - of Chapter One fame - first foray into the world of casual dining and the menu is an object lesson in applying the first principles of sourcing and integrity to what is essentially a pasta and pizza joint.
Where: 58 Upper Grand Canal Street, Dublin 4. (01) 664 3658.
Why: The McNerney brothers who own Juniors and Lotts & Co and look after the food offering at The Old Spot may not be Italian, but they sure know a thing or two about pizzas. They make their Neapolitan-style version in a proper pizza oven imported from Italy that imparts a great charred taste to the dough. Expect to find yourself eating in cosmopolitan company; Paulie's is popular with tech-types from Grand Canal Dock as well as Leinster players and supporters.
21 La Piccolo Italia
Where: 55 O'Connell Street, Limerick. (061) 315 844.
Why: The Coppola family's restaurant is a Limerick institution and, while the menu will not blow anyone away in terms of innovation, delivers a more than solid rendition of the classic Italian dishes, with all breads, desserts and ice creams made in house. Good ambience too.
Where: Luas Kiosk, Ranelagh, Dublin 6. (01) 497 0111.
Why: Located under the Luas stop in Ranelagh - not the most prepossessing premises, to be sure - the food here is authentically Italian, and was endorsed by the late Paolo Tullio, a man over whose exacting eyes it was impossible to pull the wool when it came to the cuisine of his native country. The restaurant is also affiliated with the Italian School of Cooking, which runs a range of themed courses in City Link business park on the Old Naas Road.
23 Il Pirata
Where: 279-281 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast. (0044) 289 0673 421.
Why: Belfast foodies rate Il Pirata as amongst the best in the city, with a modern Italian food offering that's delivered with panache. Go for cod baccala with salsa verde and sourdough followed by duck ragu with gnocchi spinach and Parmesan, and finish up with hazelnut affogato. There's tiramisu for die-hards.
Where: Kingston Hotel, 9-12 Haddington Terrace, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin. (01) 280 0011.
Why: So popular is Oliveto with Dun Laoghaire locals that it can be a struggle to nab a table here on busy weekend nights. More sophisticated than a pizzeria (although the pizzas are very good), the food offering takes in a few classic Italian dishes that are delivered by a kitchen that has flair. Oliveto has now taken over the rooms at the hotel, which will soon be re-named The Haddington.
Where: 128 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork. (021) 422 6006.
Why: Cork food writer Joe McNamee recommends this all-day café-bar for being stylish in a cheap and cheerful way, and as a good people-watching spot. He also rates "its genuinely interesting attempts to try something new with a small night-time menu".
Where: 7 Strand Rd, Bray, Co Wicklow. (01) 538 4000.
Why: Platform isn't an Italian restaurant per se, but it does do great pizzas as well as a wide range of other dishes, plus a full selection of craft beers and cocktails. Popular with families, and very busy, particularly at weekends.
Where: 19 Crane Lane, Dublin 2.
Why: Joe Macken's keenly-priced Skinflint doesn't claim to be an Italian restaurant, but the pizzas - all of which have girls' names and are made with a three-day fermented dough - are a cut above what's on offer in many other establishments. Try the Philomena, for instance, which comes with porchetta, pecorino, rocket, lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Delicious.
28 Il Vicolo
Where: The Bridgemills, O'Brien's Bridge, Galway City. (091) 530 515.
Why: If you've ever visited one of Russell Norman's Polpo restaurants in London, you'll have a good idea as to what to expect from the menu at Il Vicola. It's small plates (and some larger ones), or tapas Venetian-style, that's absolutely on trend. Great sourcing and provenance, good atmosphere, what more could you want?
29 That's Amore
Where: 107 Monkstown Road, Monkstown, Co Dublin. (01) 284 5400.
Why: The locals can't get enough of Silvia Leo and Marco Valeri's tiny little restaurant in the heart of Monkstown village and it's always packed, so don't even think about showing up without a reservation. Good pasta and pizza, plus daily specials that change according to what's in season.
30 Il Vicoletto
Where: 5 Crow Street, Dublin 2. (01) 670 8633.
Why: As far back as the 1990s, Il Vicoletto was a secret to be shared only with people that you really, really liked, lest you not be able to secure a table in the small Temple Bar restaurant when the mood took you. There's been a change of ownership since, but Il Vicoletto continues to serve up some of the best, traditional Central-Northern Italian food in the city. Go for the home-made ravioli, and a fine vitello tonnato.