Tuesday 21 November 2017

Refuel: A pizza perfection


Aingeala Flannery

Deansgrange doesn't like me. And I don't like Deansgrange. There's bad blood between us that goes back a long way. It started with a doomed teenage romance that sent me reeling -- heartsore and dejected -- back to the wrong side of the tracks.

Life puttered on and I forgot about Deansgrange until a few years ago, when I suddenly found myself there twice within one month. On the first occasion, I failed my driving test and, on the second, my car flunked the NCT on a dubious technicality. It exhumed a rusty hatchet: I was never going to cut it in Deansgrange.

Eventually, I passed my driving test in Rathgar, I hooked up with a Derryman, and my car -- despite its many faults -- got its NCT in Clondalkin.

So there we were, Deansgrange and me, happily avoiding each other, when I ran into the owner of one of my favourite restaurants -- Alexis in Dun Laoghaire. Now here's a man who's not only on top of his own game, but has the skinny on the entire restaurant scene: openings, closings, bad repartee, knows everybody. "Whatcha got?" I ask him, and he gives me the rundown on where he's eaten, where he'd like to be eating and where he wishes he hadn't eaten. Then, casually, he mentions that he's opened a pizzeria on Deansgrange Road.

Here's a person I like, who's opened a restaurant I think I might like... in a place where even the gutters equate my name with dirt. "There's no dilemma," Ui Rathaile snapped. "We'll ride in on horseback -- half-naked and roaring drunk. We'll eat their pizza, drink their wine and leave nothing but manure in our wake. It'll be a riot."

In other words, I'll drive and he'll order a Peroni before his arse even hits the seat.

Alexis is small and basic. There's maybe half a dozen tables inside and a couple more on the street. It's bright, functional and dominated by a huge deli fridge stocked with cheese, meat and tubs of marinated vegetables. We snagged the best table in the house -- a round one, set with sparkling water glasses, a tea-light and a purple daisy. Ui Rathaile swigged his Peroni, while I read the exclusively Italian, and remarkably affordable, wine list. There were two reds for under €4 a glass. The Il Bucco Montepulciano d'Abruzzo -- a "pup that will knock your socks off" -- was as smooth and juicy as promised, and only €3.90.

This quality-meets-affordability theme continued through the menu of antipasti, salads, pizza and pasta. Ui Rathaile kicked off with tomato bruschetta (€4.50), a thick slab of gently toasted bread, soaked with good olive oil and a pungent hit of roasted garlic. It was piled high with ripe, warm cherry tomatoes -- in short: a sweet, summery delight.

I opted for roasted vegetables (€4.95) -- and regretted it. The selection was good: aubergine, courgette, tomato, and red and yellow pepper. It was a generous portion and it certainly looked the part, but the veg was fridge cold, which rendered its flavour too shy and frigid to reveal itself.

Onwards we marched, Ui Rathaile took to drinking Montepulciano and chose a spicy Diavolo pizza for his main course. Alexis serves what, in takeaway parlance, could be described as gourmet pizza: aged Parma, provolone dolce, gorgonzola, and mozzarella di Bufala abound, but the prices are unfeasibly low -- €8 for your basic Margherita or Marinara, and €10 for everything else.

Judging by the continuous ringing of the phone, they do a brisk delivery trade, but these orders are dispatched through the back door, sparing diners the indignity of delivery boys running across the restaurant floor.

The pizza was excellent -- the base was crisp and floury with a hand-thrown lightness, the sauce was rich and tangy, and there was no scrimping on the toppings: large circles of chorizo with the perfect balance of smoke and oil, good chewy pepperoni and a hail of jalepenos.

Pasta is uniformly priced at €8.50, the choices range from simple penne arrabiata to gnocchi with bacon, parmesan and cream. I went down the classic route with meatballs and spaghetti. The polpette -- prepared with minced veal cheek -- had a moist, almost nutty, texture. They were pale with a subtle flavour, offset by a rich, garlic-infused passata sauce that clung to the perfectly al dente spaghetti.

After a couple of good espressos and a wickedly creamy tiramisu, we were sent happily on our way. Alexis has an unassuming charm, it's the kind of place we'd all love to have around the corner. Now there's an uncomfortable thought -- aspiring, in spite of it all, to live in Deansgrange.

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