Review: 'Simple food, quality ingredients, reasonable prices - bravo!'
Grano, 5 Norseman Court, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. grano.ie
Many years ago, I took a cookery course with Paolo Tullio in the kitchen of his home in Annamoe, Co Wicklow. For a couple of months, I drove down there once a week and, in the company of half a dozen other women, one of whom went on to become a close friend, learned how to make fresh pasta, prosciutto, pizza and a selection of classic Italian dishes. I still have the sheaf of recipes that Paolo handed out, but I must confess that I never did get into the routine of making pasta from scratch. Truth be told there was a lot of chatting and story-telling, followed by a good lunch and not too much serious cookery instruction.
One of the things that Paolo did teach us to make on that course was limoncello, using vodka as the base. It's dead simple, and I made one batch successfully before deciding that perhaps it was not prudent to repeat the process too often. It's a drink that I've associated with Mr Tullio ever since and I thought of him again when I saw a bottle being produced at a neighbouring table in Grano when I had dinner there last week.
I think Paolo would have approved of Grano and felt quite at home there, even though the part of Italy that he came from - a village called Galinaro, located north of Naples, south of Rome - is further north than where Grano's owner Roberto Mungo originates.
We start with Scaldanduja - spicy spreadable sausage from Calabria served with crostini. The nduja comes in a dish that's placed over a small lamp to heat it slightly and render the fat a little. There's more of a kick to it than most nduja that makes it to Ireland and it's very good, but not for the faint-hearted.
Black pig lardo on sourdough is menu crack - irresistible - and at Grano it's sliced to just the right degree of thickness so that it's starting to melt on the warm bread, yet still has substance; the flavour is subtly sweet. (And we all know that the fat of the black pig is almost a health food, right?)
Our starter - the nduja and lardo are technically 'nibbles' - of burrata with capocollo is another fine plate. The creamy cheese is served at just the right temperature - too cold and it would ruin the dish - and the cured ham, from Slow Food producer Martina Franca, quite lovely.
We share a portion of hand-made tagliolini pasta with cuttlefish, the flavours as deep and intense as the inky colour, and pork neck with smoked pancetta (also from Franca) and caciocavallo cheese on a base of cime de rapa. The meat is tender and, although the portion is not large, the dish is quite perfect. Italians do greens so well.
We finish with a dessert of cannolo scomposto - crunchy pastry, sweet creamy filling, pistachios - that's pleasant if not particularly exciting, and a cheese selection that includes one that I don't catch the name of which has been aged in barolo to very good effect.
The beauty of Grano is that it is the simple, sincere type of restaurant that Italians take for granted, but of which we have so few here. There is no drama, nor cheffy flourishes about the food, nor pretension. What there is is a rather charming, low-key commitment to producing simple food using high quality ingredients and selling it for reasonable prices, which sounds like something that we can all get behind.
Our food bill comes to €83.50 for two, including sides. The wine list is divided into sections covering the south, middle and north of Italy, and many of the wines are organic or biodynamic. We drink a bottle of top-notch Il Frappato 2016 (€85) from winemaker Arianna Occhipinti in Sicily, who also makes other, less expensive but equally interesting wines. She describes Il Frappato as "bitter, bloody and elegant", and it is all of that and more. It made us want to go back to Sicily very soon, or at least back to Grano with a couple of friends and order the magnum of it that we spotted on the top shelf.
ON A BUDGET
The two-course early bird menu costs just €19. Amongst the dishes included are the burrata and the pork neck that we tried. At lunch on Thursday and Friday a main course costs €9.
ON A BLOW OUT
A four-course dinner for two - starter, pasta, main and dessert - could cost €110 before wine or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Grano is a little outpost of Italy in Stoneybatter.
THE LOW POINT
It's hard to get a table.