The attention to detail at the Capri Bay trattoria is such, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, that you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a Mediterranean side-street restaurant, rather than east Cork
The Italians have a gift for creating atmosphere -- sometimes it may be a bit kitsch, but it's always confident. We were sitting in the Capri Bay in Youghal, but we could have been in a Sicily side street or on Capri itself.
Cheery flower baskets abound outside, along with Italian, Irish and EU flags. We entered through a string curtain, similar to those affording privacy and fresh air in hotter climes.
Italian newspapers, Fifties-style wall shelves with a few bottles and bric-a-brac, artificial flowers, paper place mats, and a big TV showing Italian programmes with no sound, opposite the music system belting out Italian music -- how could we be in Youghal? And when would I wake up?
Starters (€7.90-€13.50) included a selection of salami and cheeses from Lazio; fritto misto of crispy squid and black tiger prawns; sauteed mussels with fresh tomatoes, garlic, chilli and basil; and carpaccio di bresaola.
There was a generosity of spirit here, as we first received a selection of bruschetta and, later, glasses of limoncello. We were lucky walk-ins because the place rapidly became packed with families and couples.
Brendan had a Caprese salad (€10.50) which consisted of a whopping snowball of fresh, milky buffalo mozzarella from Campania with sliced tomatoes and rocket -- delicious. He wondered would he get through it all: he did! I had cracking grilled baby calamari (€13.50), which was charred and tasty, with a chilli and rocket salad.
Pastas of all shapes and varieties (€13-€19.50) include homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach with a Gorgonzola and radicchio sauce. Cannelloni is filled with chicken fillet, mushrooms, and served with a cheese sauce. Tagliatelle is served with a spinach sauce, fresh cream and chicken breast; while Spaghetti No 7 has sauteed tiger prawns and roast Piccadilly tomatoes. Risottos also feature, including pescatora with carnaroli rice and seafood in a tomato sauce.
Mains (€16-€27.50) include two hearty grill plates -- mista di carne and mista di pesce -- meat and fish. The meat platter includes a homemade sausage, a pork chop, a lamb chop and smoked scamorza cheese; while the fish platter proffers the fish of the day, squid, prawns and a potato gateau. They use Irish veal with the saltimbocca alla Romana. Chicken comes in many ways: pepperonato ubriaco; pizzaiola; limone; alla fra diavolo; boscaiola -- a range of styles including tomatoes, peppers, Chianti, oregano, wild mushrooms, garlic, capers, black olives, lemon, chillis. I had lobster with linguine (€19.50), a big plate of perfectly al dente pasta tossed in a cherry tomato sauce with a decent half local lobster on top. It was really lovely, and good value. Brendan's 10oz Angus fillet steak (€27.50) had me watering at the mouth. Succulent, tender, and perfectly cooked rare, it was topped with a porcini mushroom and Taleggio cheese sauce, and came with a raft of piped, creamy mash. We were in a group of five, so we had the benefit of seeing other dishes -- spaghetti frutti di mare; penne chicken carbonara; pollo ubriaco -- all of them ace.
We finished with a sinful Caprese chocolate and pear syrup cake (€5.50), and panna cotta (€5.50) topped with berries and wafers. Set in a retro sundae dish, it was straight out of the ice-cream parlours of my childhood.
With a litre of Rosso Puglia (€21), our bill for two with optional service came to €113.
They also do pizzas from €13, and I noticed two "Supper Pizzas" created by students Aaron O'Callaghan and Naomi Grahame from Bunscoil Mhuire in Youghal. At the end of sixth class, teacher Sarah Brosnan took them to Capri Bay, where owner Geraldo Esposito was very generous, with the kids ordering in Italian and getting a real experience.
"Did the waiter sing?" a local friend asked. He didn't, so I will have to go back!
55 Main Street,
Tel: (024) 90262