Eating out: Lucinda O'Sullivan at Fiorentina, Dublin 2
"Delicious food, charming service and reasonable prices will have the customers returning for more."
Looking out through Venetian blinds at the mighty illuminated portico of Dublin's magnificent City Hall, on a balmy evening, was a mood-raiser in itself.
We were in the new Fiorentina restaurant, which occupies the premises that was, for many years, Da Pino Italian restaurant, on a corner of Parliament and Dame Streets. Restaurateur Kristan Burness, a familiar face on the Dublin restaurant scene, and Janice O'Neill, are the directors of Fiorentina.
Since my last visit, this place seems to have had an ocean of money thrown at it, turning it into a smart, citified, Italian eatery that would sit equally well in New York or Milan.
What was an out-of-date, frumpy mess, has given way to cool, urban greys.
The menu layout, too, was cool, clear, clean and well priced, through a series of headings. Per Cominciare offered olives at €4.50; pane e grissini with tapenades and pesto at €3.50; and oysters, at €1.50 each. It moves on then to bruschetta and fritti – calamari or Portobello mushrooms with truffle dip.
Insalate had Caprese and Caesar salads (€7.50/€8); while antipasti (€6-€12) included an antipasto plate; carpaccio of beef fillet; or spicy mussel and tomato soup. Mary kicked off with polpette (€7.50). Light in texture, these Italian meatballs didn't claim to be Mama's version – it's not that sort of place – but were made from wild boar and served in a tomato and olive ragu, in a rustic terracotta dish. They were tasty.
My Sicilian-style gamberetti (€11.50) starter was absolutely ace. A trio of whopping great prawns, retaining a bite, were resting in a light garlic sauce containing tiny dice of nduja, a south Calabrian pork sausage, all topped with the crisp, peppery contrast of watercress.
We loved that pasta and risotto dishes could be had in half or full portions (€8-€9/ €15-€17), and we also loved the concise selection on offer, including a classic carbonara; bucatini all' Amatriciana; and orecchiette with smoked and fresh salmon, cime di rapa (turnip tops) and young goat's cheese.
Milk-fed veal (€21.50-€28.50) features three ways: a cutlet, which is served with anchovy and rosemary butter with braised fennel; loin; or sauteed veal liver. Their veal, they told me, comes from the Continent. I personally haven't eaten veal for many years because of the way it is reared. I would prefer to see them using rose veal, which I accept is not the same, but, nonetheless, to me, what is involved in the production of milk-fed veal is not worth it.
Steaks (€18.50-€28.50) and chicken dishes (€17.50) round off the menu, along with the house special, a 32oz T-bone for two people at €59.50, with Amalfi lemon/rosemary fries and vine tomato.
Mary followed up with a half portion of risotto nero (€8), which was drop-dead gorgeous. Rich, glistening, squid-ink-coloured black pearls of rice, harbouring splashes of vermouth and chilli, provided a stunning canvas for delicious, purple-tinged tendrils and chunky, charred octopus. Zuppa di pesce (€19.50) was also a palette of colours, with an excellent melange of red mullet, sea bass, rolled, slashed calamari, prawns, golden-hued saffron potatoes and cherry tomatoes in a light broth. With these, we picked at frites with truffle aioli (€3.50).
And so to the grand finale – our choice of a divine crostata alla limone (€6.50) to share, served with an equally divine blob of raspberry sorbet, left a lingering memory and a desire to return.
There's a wide selection of regional Italian wines available by the bottle, 50cl carafe or glass, and with a bottle of Sicilian Ca'di Ponti Catarratto (€27.50), bottled water (€4.50) and two coffees (€5.60), our bill, with optional service, came to €105.
It's good to have a smart, civilized restaurant in Temple Bar now, with charming, experienced people on the floor.
Fiorentina, 40 Parliament Street, Dublin 2, Tel: (01) 635-1922, www.fiorentina.ie
Three to try: almost nationwide
Ballycotton, Co Cork, Tel: (021) 206-1449, www.facebook.com/ pier26restaurant
Style: Bag a table by the window of this waterside eatery, which has a relaxed, simple ambiance. Seafood specials include Ballycotton mussels, scallops, monkfish scampi and steaks
Price: Table d'hote 2/3 course, €20/€25. Some dishes carry supplements
Try: Grilled fillet of Ballycotton hake with crushed baby potatoes, rocket, and a lemon, caper and parsley dressing (€5 supplement)
Wine: From €20
The Loft At Cillin Hill
Cillin Hill, Dublin Road, Kilkenny, Tel: (056) 777-2721, www.langtons.ie
Style: A new, contemporary, daytime cafe, bar and restaurant from the Langton stable, doing light bites, antipasti platters, salads and delicious cakes
Price: €6.50-€9; 2-course carvery lunch menu from €13.50
Try: Crispy, Greek-style filo tartlet – spinach, sun-blushed tomato, black olive, soft feta cheese, basil and olive dressing, €8.50
Wine: From €22
Main Street, Dingle, Co Kerry, Tel: (066) 915-1277, www.lordbakers.ie
Style: Lord Baker's serves great seafood and classic dishes, ranging from Dingle Bay prawns to Cromane oysters and West Kerry salt-marsh lamb
Price: Mains, €18-€30; 2/3 course menu, €24/€28
Try: Fresh Cromane mussels in garlic butter, €18
Wine: From €26
Sunday Indo Life Magazine