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Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Il Secreto, Dublin 2


Il Secreto 13a/13b Merrion Row, Dublin 2

Il Secreto 13a/13b Merrion Row, Dublin 2

Il Secreto 13a/13b Merrion Row, Dublin 2

Restaurants and fashion are inextricably linked. There are never-ending changes in the fashionable food of the moment, or the presentation of it.

There are chefs who become household names and are followed slavishly until another comes along, and there are restaurants that, for some reason or another, become the place to be seen and are frequented by the great and the good.

A few years ago, raspberry vinegar turned up just about everywhere; kiwi fruit became omnipresent, then it was the turn of the sun-dried tomato.

You may remember finding them in all sorts of dishes, even where they didn't belong.

Today's overused ingredient is probably basil pesto, but I suspect its reign is coming to an end.

Chefs' reputations, too, are subject to fashion. If chefs don't constantly reinvent themselves, they become viewed as yesterday's men or women.

The entire world of gastronomy is a constantly evolving flux, with new ideas, new flavours and new cuisines arriving and being assimilated.

As I say, reinvention is the name of the game.

Now, you may remember that throughout the late 1990s and the Noughties, The Unicorn, owned by Jeff Stokes and Giorgio Casari, was the place to be seen, especially for Saturday lunch.

Little by little it expanded: the piano bar came, then the deli, then Jeff's twins, Simon and Christian, took over Bang followed by Residence. The team of Stokes and Casari was coming close to taking over Merrion Row.

If you read the papers, you'll know that there have been huge changes there -- Residence is in other hands, so is Bang.

But the most recent addition is still going. It's called Il Secreto and it, too, is on Merrion Row.

I haven't done a review with Michael Colgan since last year, so we arranged to meet for lunch in Il Secreto.

A couple of days later, I was talking to Chris de Burgh and mentioned our lunch. He decided right then that he wanted to join us, so three of us arrived in Il Secreto.

Probably because I knew that Giorgio Casari was involved and the name is Italian, I arrived thinking that we would be meeting in an Italian restaurant.

As soon as I read the menu, it became clear that I was wrong.

We were given the lunch menu, which combined a set menu and an a la carte, and the dishes it listed were exactly the sort that you'd find in many modern restaurants.

For example, the set-menu choices were soup, goat's cheese salad and crab salad as starters, then chicken chasseur, belly of pork and smoked haddock as main courses.

As you can see, they're hardly Italian.

However, there were a couple of Italian dishes on the a la carte: penne pasta and spaghetti Bolognese.

You could argue that these are both now international dishes found on menus in all kinds of restaurants, but I was keen to see if the Italian heritage of this restaurant would come out in these dishes.

The interior is very easy on the eye: muted colours, plenty of space, and, where we were sitting, very comfortable.

What may also be of interest to a minority of people is that upstairs there are two very nice smoking areas, one at the front overlooking Merrion Row and one at the back.

As a now occasional smoker myself, this is a big plus in my view, as it allows me one of my greatest pleasures -- an espresso and a cigarette.

Being lunchtime, we were only looking for wine by the glass, so Michael chose a Pinot Grigio, Chris chose an Argentinian Malbec, and I chose the sparkling water.

I did look down the wine list, which has about 50 wines, but only 15 of them cost less than €30, with the rest going up to the hundreds.

Between us, we were able to try the two Italian dishes. Michael wanted only one course, and, being a lifelong vegetarian, asked for penne with vegetables.

Both Chris and I decided we wanted to taste the Bolognese, so we asked if we could have starter portions, which is of course how it would be eaten in Italy.

That presented no problems, so while Michael watched, Chris and I settled into our spag bol.

I have to say that the sauce was good and the pasta properly cooked, but the presentation couldn't have been more wrong. It came like pasta comes in Dolmio adverts, which is hardly a role model.

That's to say, the pasta was served white and sauceless with a dollop of sauce sitting on top. What that meant was that I had to thoroughly mix the pasta and the sauce while it was on my plate using only my fork.

No, no, no. That mixing should have been done in the kitchen. You can always add an extra dollop of sauce on top if you feel like it, but don't expect the diner to do the kitchen's work.

For mains, Chris had ordered the 7oz grilled rib of beef, Michael was getting vegetarian pasta, and I'd ordered one of my favourite dishes, which was on the set menu -- smoked haddock with a poached egg, spinach and mashed potato.

It's a dish that just seems to work: the combinations of flavours go together well, the textures are good and, even better, you can tell yourself it's healthy food.

My companions were happy with what they got; Michael enjoyed his pasta and Chris his beef, but what we all began to fight over was the combination of Chris's stringy French fries and his little pot of Bearnaise sauce that came with his steak.

We were so keen on this combination that poor Chris had to order more chips and more Bearnaise.

We briefly talked of dessert, but time had got the better of us and it was time to go.

Our bill came to just under €80, which I thought was good value for three people.

On a budget

Apart from the set lunch, you could also avail of the pre-theatre set dinner, which comes at exactly the same price as the set lunch — that’s two courses for €19.50 or three for €23.95.

Main-course choices are shoulder of lamb, chicken chasseur and pan-fried fillet of cod.

On a blowout

There is a bit of a jump in price when you go a la carte. Starters run from €7.95 up to €12.95 and mains run from €18.75 to €26.50.

Desserts are between €6 and €7, so you could spend more than €40 for three courses.

Il Secreto


Merrion Row,

Dublin 2

Tel: 01 661 8700

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