Thursday 29 September 2016

Saturdays won't be the same now that my friend has gone

Published 06/06/2015 | 02:30

Paolo Tullio: Hugely informative, highly entertaining and always fair
Paolo Tullio: Hugely informative, highly entertaining and always fair

Every Tuesday, Paolo Tullio served us a treat at 'Weekend' magazine, delivering his weekly restaurant review.

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Hugely informative, highly entertaining, never barbed and always characteristically fair, Paolo Tullio wasn't a food snob, though he had every right to be.

Ireland's favourite restaurant reviewer held the coveted accolade of a Michelin star for his Armstrong's Barn restaurant in Co Wicklow for two years at the end of the 1970s. Paolo used to entertain his guests by playing his guitar and the irony that the premises later morphed into a recording studio for Zig and Zag wasn't lost on him.

As food editor at 'Weekend', I had the pleasure of liaising with Paolo for nine years as he criss-crossed the country to find interesting, worthwhile restaurants, hotels, coffee shops and cafés for our readers.

Unlike other food writers, Paolo made a deliberate rule never to visit a new establishment for at least a month after it opened. He was always encouraging and even-tempered and inevitably, when he slipped out for a cigarette, he would be asked to pose for photographs or to autograph menus.

However, there were certain things that pressed Paolo's buttons - like the over-zealous waiter wandering around with a giant pepper mill, wanting to spice up your meal before you had even taken the first mouthful.

Then there was the extortionist price of small bottles of water which drove him bananas. That was his drink of choice because he always drove home after those Thursday night reviews.

His Italian blood would boil up a little over the addition of cream to pasta carbonara, something he regarded as "lazy", and he complained he could not fathom why restaurants owned and run by Italians in Ireland, by and large, produced food that was far from the Italian culinary canon.

But the absolute no-no was the espresso without a proper crema for his spoon of sugar to sit on it. If it was bad, Paolo might order a second one, in order to give the restaurant a second chance.

I remember his face grimacing in disgust at one but when he filed his copy, Paolo toned down his disgust and wrote how he had "tasted better espresso".

He was quite a renaissance man, coming from 'North of Naples, South of Rome', the title of his first book, published in 1994. He played the guitar and sang, he did voice-overs, appeared in movies and his last role was in 'The Tiger's Tail' after being recruited by his friend and next-door neighbour, director John Boorman.

Paolo loved technology and was one of the first 'Weekend' writers to crack our new editorial system of writing directly on to the page. He used his smart phone extensively and would light up the menu if the restaurant was dark and we couldn't see the menu. Or, better again, use an app to measure the decibel level if the restaurant was noisy.

But it was all done with great humour and an absolute love of food and total respect for the ingredients. Every Thursday, he would drive up to Dublin to do the 'Moncrieff' show on Newstalk and go see his mum. And there were the inevitable trips to TK Maxx, where he loved shopping, and he would enthuse about his techie purchases at Lidl and Aldi, like the giant telescope we all looked through when we visited him for one of his charming dinner parties.

And while he ate in some of the best restaurants in the world, Paolo was unbelievably happy cooking for family and friends in his kitchen at home.

The foxes had snaffled his chickens, but he developed his vegetable garden and I remember him bounding out to pick courgette flowers, make a batter and serve them up within minutes. Two summers ago he planted apples and he was exceedingly pleased with the outdoor pizza oven he built himself.

Paolo was proud of his artist son Rocco and proud to walk his daughter, Bella, up the aisle. He was also a doting grandad. Last summer, he was delighted to give away Gemma Kenny at her wedding - Gemma is the daughter of Paolo's long-term partner, Marian, who he referred to as 'The Blonde' in his weekly food column.

Thinking of the good times, I remember walking around the Ploughing Championships with him last September where, after guesting at the Irish Independent tent, we went off and did a food review on the way back to Dublin.

He loved his annual January trip to the south of France with his pals from Trinity College. He would stay with Paul McGuinness and called the former U2 manager 'Magoo'. They would dine out over a couple of days with pals and he would come back with a string of fabulous reviews, from Michelin star restaurants to casual cafés.

Lucky those foodies who accompanied Paolo on his culinary trips to Spain with The Travel Department, taking tapas and wines in Barcelona. He would enthuse about international cuisines but he loved Italian food best of all and wrote a recipe book to help us discover the best of Italian cuisines.

Saturdays just won't be the same without Paolo Tullio.

May he rest in peace.

Irish Independent

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