Restaurant review: Del-Fino - room to improve
Del-Fino, 21 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2 (01) 4413208. del-fino.ie
Without wishing to sound like a resigning Tory cabinet member, it is with a heavy heart that I bring you this review of Del-Fino. I was looking forward to my visit, yet when I ate there a month or so after it opened I found a venture that was barely holding it together, in terms of either food or service.
The chef is Alan O'Reilly, whose cooking I have liked very much in the past. I am sure I will again.
O'Reilly can properly be described as a veteran of the SoCoDu restaurant scene, having cooked in Clarets, Morels, Alexis and Wildeside. I reviewed Wildeside (now closed) last year and loved the food. At Del-Fino, O'Reilly's business partner is Kevin Hui of the China Sichuan.
Alexis was known, amongst other things, for its good value lunch deal. Consequently, savvy retirees convened there to relax with their newspapers over a glass of wine and a plate of O'Reilly's hearty, classic food. They have followed him into the city centre; other restaurants on the strip attract a younger clientèle.
We are brought to a high table with stools at the back, in front of the open kitchen. I hate to perch while I eat, and we should have been asked ahead of time if this would be acceptable. Within a few minutes, an alternative is proposed - but it's a squish for five of us on a four-top.
The restaurant is full and, for what seems like the longest time, no one comes near us. No one offers to take our coats, to bring us menus or ask if we'd like to order a drink. There are mutterings about making more space when the people at an adjacent table are finished, but it doesn't happen, even though we are clearly cramped. I'm with my family who don't like it when I make a fuss, so I don't. But if I had been on my own or with a friend I would have high-tailed it a few doors along the road to Pickle or Delahunt, or next door to Hang Dai, in the hope of salvation.
The menu is a strange mix of dishes that doesn't read with cohesion. Strange, non-sequitur ingredients pop up here and there, as if no one can decide what the food is supposed to be. None of us can face the weirdness of 'Kimchi Deviled Eggs, Chicken Skin Crumble' which appears as a snack, and we're all sick of croquettes (Dublin has definitely reached Peak Croquette) so we don't want the crispy [sic] pork iteration of those. We order a double portion of Fermented Potato Beignets & Romesco instead, but they don't arrive until much later, with our mains. (They turn out not to be half as interesting as they sound.)
Of the starters, Pork Cheek, Celeriac Hazelnuts, Sherry Vinegar is the one that feels like an O'Reilly plate; it's rich and deeply flavoured, the celeriac purée smooth, the flourish of pork scratching lending a satisfying crunch. Half portions of two pasta dishes - pappardelle with braised rabbit, fazzoletti with porcini and fried oyster mushrooms - feature excellent pasta but sauces that lack depth of flavour. Calamari turns out to be baby squid; it comes with padron peppers and aioli and is fine without being memorable.
Our main courses are disappointing. Côte de boeuf is over-cooked (we should have sent it back, but everything has taken so long to reach us already that we can't bear to), but the meat is good. Short-rib with cavolo nero has been hanging around so long under the lights that it's dried out. Gnocchi is monotone. And a special of Crispy (again!) Shrimp with garlic, chilli and rocket reminds me of a dish that you'd pick up in the Asian section of the chill cabinet for a desultory solo dinner.
We finish with a pair of pedestrian desserts - Millionaire Twix and Lemon Crostata - both garnished with raspberries.
With two bottles of pleasant Nero d'Avola from the lower end of the wine list (€33), two glasses of white, three bottles of water, a soft drink and a few sides, our bill for five comes to €293.50 before service, with no charge for the MIA beignets. I'm sure that things can and will improve.
ON A BUDGET
A large portion of pasta with mushrooms and a glass of house wine will cost around €25.
ON A BLOW OUT
Scallops with pea risotto and pan-crisped pancetta, côte de boeuf and dessert will set you back a little over €100 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
A side dish of roasted beets, walnuts and gorgonzola was pretty delicious, and the staff smiled a lot.
THE LOW POINT