Eating out: Paolo Tullio at Fiorentina, Parliament Street
'In Florentina, there's an effort to bring something new to the table.'
I have a friend, and I won't embarrass him by telling you his name, who once went on a motoring holiday to Italy. His first port of call was Florence, so he picked up the A1 motorway in Milan and headed south.
He knew that Florence was to be found on the A1, but could he find it? Not even a sign for it. There were signs for a place called Firenze, but he didn't want to go there, he wanted to go to Florence.
After a few fruitless laps up and down the motorway he abandoned his search for Florence, cursing Italian signage and his own guide book for not explaining how to find a major city. Today, older and wiser, he knows that Firenze is the Italian for Florence.
Oddly, had he seen the adjective derived from Firenze written anywhere, he might have copped on. It's 'fiorentino', not a million miles from Florentine.
So now that you know that, you might assume that the newly opened restaurant on the corner of Parliament Street and Dame Street called Fiorentina may specialise in Florentine, or possibly Tuscan food. In fact its menu has a broader palette. It has dishes from most of Italy's regions on the menu. And apart from a few typos, it's the nearest thing to an Italian menu that I've seen in Ireland for a while.
Reading the menu it really gives the impression that they've thought about this. Instead of listing all the usual dishes - the abominable penne with cream and chicken, carbonara smothered in cream, spag bol - that sadly sell, there's an effort to bring something new to the table.
So you can find Sicilian arancini (rice balls), pappardelle with a wild boar ragu, lamb alla cacciatora and squid ink risotto. Apart from its contents, the menu is laid out as it would be in Italy - antipasti, first courses of pasta and rice, then second courses of fish and meat.
There's a final section of the menu called 'from the grill' which offers steaks, a veal cutlet, a tuna steak and a burger, designed for those who have stumbled into an Italian restaurant but yet feel the need for, for example, a burger.
Anyway, while I was reading the menu, which comes on a large card, I was handed some home-made grissini (bread sticks) and some fresh ricotta, a classic beginning to a meal, by my Neapolitan waiter.
I wanted just one glass of wine, and he suggested a glass of Falanghina, not surprising really as its from Avellino, just outside Naples. It was charged at €9.50, not cheap, but it's a good wine.
So after some thought I decided on a first course of thin slices of yellow fin tuna, served with an avocado and chilli salad. It came on a round slate, the slices thin enough to be translucent and atop the salad, which was what I would have called guacamole.
The two things went together perfectly and it made a great starter. I may have to repeat myself again here. If you have a piece of very fresh tuna, it's a crime to cook it. When it's as fresh as this piece was, the best way to eat it is as sashimi, that's to say as it was here, raw.
The joy of a dish like that is that it tastes great, yet you haven't punished your body with anything heavy and indigestible, instead it was light and probably even good for me.
Since I'd started on fish, I thought I may as well continue with fish. There were three fish options - sea bream fillets alla puttanesca, pan-fried hake, or Ligurian fish stew. Now Liguria is that bit of Italy where the French Cote d'Azur, or the Riviera, carries on into Italy from Genoa down to Livorno.
If you've ever travelled to this part of the world you'll know that just about every stretch of Mediterranean coastline has its own fish stew. You can start in Marseilles and eat bouillabaisse, move to Italy and eat burrida, a Ligurian fish stew, move further south and eat cacciucco or cross to the Adriatic and eat brodetto.
All these stews follow the same general idea: a good mix of fish, some fresh, some smoked, some air-dried and salted, along with some shellfish, all boiled together to create a rich and complex symphony of flavours. Sometimes these stews are enhanced with bay leaves, with wine, and sometimes with vegetables, like tomatoes, leeks, onions and courgettes.
The one that came to me had a fine mix of fish and seafood, but unusually, this one had rigatoni pasta (big tubes, twice the size of penne) as a carbohydrate. This is common practice when making a vegetable minestra or minestrone, but not so common with fish.
Lastly I treated myself to a dessert, a slice of lemon cake with a ball of raspberry sorbet alongside. This was also served on a slate, so you need to eat the sorbet fast before it melts right off the slate. I was happy to let my Neapolitan friend make me an espresso the Neapolitan way - not a lot of water and lots of coffee grounds. Maybe a third of a demi-tasse of liquid, but what liquid! A great end to the meal, which brought my bill to €42.50.
On a budget: At lunch time they serve 'cicchetti', which are Venetian tapas. There are nine to choose from and you have two for €9.50. For example, Parma ham and burrata, calamari on the griddle, Sicilian arancini and slow-braised veal shank.
On a blowout
The most expensive dish on the menu is milk-fed veal loin, served with new season asparagus, broad beans and a herb cream at €24.50. Side orders are all €3.50, so order the caponata, a Sicilian vegetable stew.
High Point: Finding a menu that reads like an Italian menu. A pleasant surprise.
Low Point: I would have liked more fish and less pasta in my fish stew.
8/10 value for money
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
The Coeliac Society of Ireland, in association with SuperValu, will host Ireland's first ever 100% gluten-free food market at the Silver Springs Moran Hotel in Cork on October 5.
The 'Ballynogluten Food Market' is part of the organisation's annual National Convention running that weekend at the Cork hotel. Tickets cost €40 per adult and €18 for children. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01 872 1473.