independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Spaghetti malfunction

If you do a job for long enough it's tempting to believe that there's nothing left that will surprise you. You tell yourself that surely you've seen all that there is and that there's nothing new in human invention for you to see.

Tempting as it is to believe that, it's not true. Even the most jaundiced palate, the most jaded of senses, can find themselves with their interest sparked on occasion. One of the most surprising meals I had last year was in Maximilian's Bistro in Blanchardstown.

I'd gone there with Gerard Carthy of TasteofIreland.com and while I was there I got a bowl of spaghetti alle vongole (with clams), a classic dish from Naples.

Maximilian's Bistro is above the Superquinn supermarket in Blanchardstown and I'm bigoted enough to believe that that's an unlikely place to get served properly made Italian food.

Indeed, all my experience of the past 20 years told me that the chances of the dish being even remotely good were slim.

But then, as I said, you can be surprised despite your instincts. I found myself slurping down a really delicious bowl of spaghetti, as good as any I've eaten Naples, the city of its provenance.

At that moment, I decided that I needed to return and do a review. So this week, I returned and it seemed a good idea to go again with Gerard.

I'll be honest, from the supermarket car park, Maximilian's doesn't look like the ideal spot for a restaurant.

Yet when you go up the stairs and enter, it all starts to look better.

There are two dining rooms; the first has a bar and is on two levels, and the second off this one at the back is rather nicely decorated and comfortable. That's where we took a table.

Maximilian's was an Italian restaurant for quite a long time, and the brick-domed pizza oven visible in the kitchen is a testament to that.

But it's no longer an Italian restaurant, instead it's more modern Mediterranean now, with a few Italian dishes still on the menu.

Even though we weren't drinking wine, I spent a while looking down the wine list.

It's priced the way I like to see wine lists, with the bulk of the wines priced between €20 and €30. For those with deep pockets, there are a few top-end wines to round off the list, although I thought a little more information might have helped.

One listing was simply 'Amarone' at €250, with no year or shipper listed. In the end, the drinks we ordered were sparkling water – three half-litre bottles – and a bottle of San Miguel beer for me.

Both Gerard and I went for seafood starters, the prawns for Gerard and the mussels for me.

The prawns were big tiger prawns and were served with chilli and garlic. I tasted one and it was properly cooked and well flavoured. This was the third time I'd had mussels recently, and each time I've had them done with a different sauce.

This time it was with a coconut-milk base, and although I enjoyed them, I'm still inclined to prefer the classic white wine and cream sauce.

I'd looked right through the menu, looking for spaghetti alle vongole, the dish I'd had before, but didn't see it. So instead I ordered the seafood risotto.

Gerard, being cheekier than me, asked if it would be possible to have spaghetti alle vongole even though it wasn't on the menu, and was told "certainly, sir". He must have seen the look on my face and said, "It's okay, you can have a taste of mine."

Both dishes were very nicely presented on large white plates. Plenty of shellfish and shells were visible in both dishes and mine had a couple of large prawns in their shells decorating the middle of the plate.

I looked across the table covetously as Gerard picked up his first forkful of spaghetti, and I noticed that the spaghetti didn't hang off his fork as it should.

No doubt you've heard the phrase 'al dente', which is Italian and means that the pasta should have 'a bit of bite'. It shouldn't be soft and soggy. But here's the thing, neither should it be hard. 'Al dente' is that Goldilocks stage, when it's neither hard nor soggy.

When you pick up a forkful of spaghetti, it should hang straight down from the fork. If it does, it's cooked. If it doesn't hang straight down, it's not yet cooked enough.

That's what I saw on Gerard's fork, and sure enough, although the pasta sauce was every bit as good as I remembered, the pasta was a little hard. In fairness, it didn't deter Gerard who finished every scrap.

I couldn't have been happier with my dish of risotto. Some Irish chefs have a bizarre notion that rice should be 'al dente' like pasta, but thankfully the chef who cooked my risotto knew better. It was perfectly cooked, there was plenty of seafood and it was expertly flavoured. A really good risotto.

We finished with an Americano for Gerard and an espresso for me, which brought the bill to €85.85.

We'd had good food, the service had been excellent and the room we were in was warm and comfortable.

Blanchardstown isn't awash with good places to eat, so Maximilian's is ploughing a solitary furrow. There's live music every Friday and Saturday night, so if you like guitar or piano music, the weekend's the thing.

Irish Independent

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