Our critic didn’t want to leave this popular Dublin 7 wine bar with a tasty menu and fun atmosphere
The good news is that, since my visit to A Fianco a few weeks ago, the super-popular little Stoneybatter vineria has introduced a booking system. This means that, if you are an efficient forward planner, you may be able to skip the part of the evening where you have to hang around on the pavement outside, noses pressed up against the window, looking in enviously at the lucky people inside having fun, drinking wine and tucking into tasty food.
The bad news is that, if it’s anything like as hard to get a booking at A Fianco as it is at the co-owned Grano next door (the expression hen’s teeth springs to mind), you will end up having to do exactly what we did and wait patiently for a walk-in space, willing the lingerers and slow payers to get a move on.
Once inside, tucked away in a cosy corner by the window, things happen quickly.
A request to recommend a red wine we don’t already know — we’ve indicated a few familiar bottles on the list we like in order to give the enthusiastic Italian man (“You have great taste in wine!” he flatters, “You like the good stuff!”) something to work with — is met with a bottle of Pietro Zardini Valpolicella form the Veneto, at €42 one of the lower-priced bottles on the list, and an eminently drinkable 12.5pc one at that.
The menu consists of a dozen or so small plates. Many are bread-based and there are several salumi options. It is a little repetitive. It would be nice to see more in the way of salads and vegetable-forward dishes.
But that minor gripe aside, we eat some very good things, the friselle di farro — spelt rusk bread from the south of Italy, topped with stracciatella, good anchovies and lemon zest — being one. The combination may be simple, but the crusty, nutty-tasting bread is a perfect vehicle for the lush cheese and salty fish. More anchovies, marinated this time, draped over peppers and San Marzano tomatoes on toast are good too.
Crostini alla Tropeana — toasted bread topped with nduja, fresh tuna and caramelised Tropea red onions — is less successful. While the ’nduja lends edge to the tuna, both are overwhelmed by the heaping of too-sweet onions. Scombro marinato, marinated mackerel, doesn’t come with the billed blood orange, though the fennel and almonds are present and correct. The dish lacks acidity and the fish has gone mushy from being in the marinade too long.
It must be annoying when people want to move mid-meal, but the servers pretend it isn’t
Halfway through our meal, two seats at the bar come free and, as there’s no one waiting outside, we chance our arms and ask if we can have them. It’s not that we don’t like it by the window ledge, but we’ll have a better view of the room from the bar. It must be annoying when people want to move mid-meal, but the servers pretend it isn’t.
Soppressata — Calabrian black pig salami, spiced with chilli and black pepper — is one of the salumi options, and its flavour is exceptional, a world away from the mass-produced. The spicy polpette — a mix of beef and pork — are excellent (I’d go back just to eat these), as is the slow-cooked beef cheek with soft Calabrian beans and braised chicory, rich and deeply flavoured and the only main course per se, with a €16.50 price tag.
We finish up with a good deconstructed cannolo with pistachio, dark chocolate and candied lemon zest, not too sweet, and 40-month ‘red cow’ Parmigiano from Reggio Emilia. These Reggio red cows have been native to the north of Italy since the Barbarian invasions of around 568 and produce the best type of Parmesan, the flavours and aromas more complex than the norm. A Fianco, which takes its sourcing seriously, serves it in chunks, anointed with just a little good balsamic, piled on thin, crisp carta di musica crackers.
Of course, by this stage, we don’t want to leave either. We have joined the ranks of the lingerers, eking out the final glass of wine before the walk home. With water, our bill comes to €123.50 before tip.
As we make our way across the city, down Manor Street, over the river and up the hill, we talk about the elements of a civilised life, about the amenities you’d want to have close to where you live, in a perfect world. There’d be a decent grocer, butcher and fishmonger, a park, a cinema, good public transport and a wine bar just like A Fianco, somewhere you’d be a regular, where there’d always be a welcome, a seat at the bar, and a glass of something delicious.
You can have a selection of salumi and a glass of wine for €20.
A three-course dinner for two could cost €70 before wine or tip.
A Fianco, Unit 6, Norseman Court, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin D7 NP83; afianco.ie