Refuel: Il Vicoletto * * * * *
5 Crow Street, Dublin 2. Telephone: 01 6708633
Once upon a time, there was a little Italian restaurant that lay down a narrow cobbled street in the heart of a big city that was awash with money and with people who were always happy to pay over the odds for very ordinary, and sometimes not very nice, pasta dishes.
That little restaurant was called Il Vicoletto -- and after a particularly disappointing meal there about five years ago, the beautiful young restaurant critic (ahem) decided not to bother going back ever again. The End.
But Il Vicoletto survived, and at the end of last summer word got out that it had changed owner. Several positive reviews followed. Apparently, the new owner was looking for a chef -- correction -- a culinary wizard, a man so gifted he could lure native Dublinians across the river of vomit that forms a natural border between Temple Bar and civilisation.
Well, I'll French kiss a frog if he hasn't gone and done exactly that. Giorgio Trovato (whose talents were shamefully unsung during a brief stint at Il Veliore in Waterford city) arrived at Il Vicoletto just a few days before we did and was busy kicking the place into shape. Seeing him so intently at work in the kitchen, I couldn't resist slapping the menu shut and surrendering my appetite to "whatever the new chef recommends".
The only exception was that I wanted a starter portion of spaghetti carbonara -- always a reliable benchmark. But before I get to that, we were each furnished with a glass of Prosecco, either because the Posh Blonde is annoyingly pretty or because my cat had escaped its proverbial bag. We drained our glasses and the seduction continued with a gift from the chef: a miniature martini glass of carrot soup topped with a curly pumpkin crisp and a folded bundle of spinach leaves that had been sauteed with chili.
The carbonara was perfect -- spaghetti cooked al dente, plenty of juicy pancetta, cracked black pepper and raw -- yes, raw -- egg yolk. I accepted a scattering of grated Parmigiano, and happily noted how there wasn't a misplaced pea nor a squirt of cream in sight. From then on we dined at Giorgio's discretion. The Blonde kicked off with risotto, high-grade carnaroli rice that was firm and light and coated in creamy Tallegio sauce with small nuggets of poached pear.
Sea bream came wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma on a bed of thinly sliced, waxy potatoes. This is not a dish I'm particularly fond of because I find the saltiness of the ham overwhelming. Yet, the flavour of the sea bream shone through. The Blonde ordered green beans as a side. She described them as "floppy". But this is a woman who likes her greens macrobiotic
Beef fillet was served medium rare; the scorched caramelised crust was seasoned and flecked with rosemary and oregano, and inside the meat simply melted, so tender I could have eaten it with a spoon. It came with sliced porcini mushrooms in cream sauce, which was divine. The portion was huge, the concept macho, paired with a large glass of Montelpulciano, it wasn't the most original dish in the world, but it made up for that with a sensuality that I found irresistible.
For dessert, the Blonde ate chocolate fondant, which was suitably warm, dark and oozy. I kept with tradition and ordered the tiramisu, prepared with crushed amaretti and plenty of liquor. It was a creamy triumph. We rounded the evening off with an amaretto for the Blonde, and an amaro with ice and a slice of orange for lil 'ol me. It might have pushed us over the edge, but I'd have sworn on the reputations of all the hookers who never slept with Silvio Berlusconi that this was the best Italian meal I've had anywhere -- including Italy.
There is no point in pretending that the folks at Il Vicoletto didn't know I was there to review, but chefs don't reserve their gastronomic greatness for the moment a critic waddles through the door.
God knows, Temple Bar could do with an injection of old European class. Bravissimo.
TYPICAL DISH: Pasta
RECOMMENDED: The chef’s specials
THE DAMAGE: €139.70 for two starters, two mains, two desserts, two bottles of wine and two digestivos
ON THE STEREO:Italian crooners
AT THE TABLE: Couples
WHAT TO WEAR:Armani
DO SAY:Strozzapretti with wild boar ragu
DON’T SAY:Lasagne and chips