Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at La Dolce Vita, Dublin 18
Ever since man first started to live in cities, the basic urban design has been the same. The centre was for commerce and trade and the outer areas were residential.
If you walk around Pompeii, it all looks very familiar; the layout is exactly as it is in cities today.
So the place to find restaurants is in the centres.
There is an exception -- if the town or city is large enough, you get smaller, out-of-town mini-centres in the residential areas. When restaurants are in places like this, they're called 'local restaurants'.
It's been a while since I've reviewed a local restaurant, so this week, I set off with my son Rocco to review one in Sandyford.
If you're a Dubliner, I'll bet you've heard of the Sandyford Industrial Estate, but you might not have heard of Sandyford Village, which is where we were headed.
Sandyford Village is surrounded by motorways and large new link roads. But once you enter it, you can see at once that it is -- as it name suggests -- a village.
We were looking for a restaurant called La Dolce Vita, which is above the Sandyford House pub. There was plenty of parking in the pub car park and we found the entrance easily enough, going upstairs to what has clearly been recently renovated.
The dining room itself is comfortable enough, with a mix of tables and semi-circular banquettes. Although we were just two, we got a large table surrounded by one of the banquettes and settled in to read the menu.
It's a long menu with lots of choices and, as you might have gathered from its name, it's an Italian restaurant.
It's been my habit over the years to be quite strict when reviewing restaurants that claim to be Italian, mainly because I'd love to see an attempt to put real Italian food on to a menu in Ireland.
Maybe one day that will happen, but in the meantime what we have are Italian restaurants that produce a cuisine that is a mix of international and distinctly national flavours blended with the Italian original.
The sure sign of this fusion is when you find pineapple on pizzas, cream in the carbonara and pasta dishes with cream and chicken.
But I'm not such a purist that I can't enjoy dishes that are a fusion -- after all, if the dish is cooked well it can still be good, even if it's not authentic.
There were two menus, an à la carte and an early bird, so we decided that Rocco would eat à la carte and I'd eat from the set menu, which gave me two courses for €17.95.
The à la carte began with a page of antipasti, mostly Italian plus a few from elsewhere, such as a Greek salad, smoked salmon and prawn cocktail.
Then, there was a page of pastas, a page of pizzas and a page of mains, so there was a lot of choice -- 20 pasta dishes and 16 different pizzas.
Main courses were a little more limited -- all of them were variations of chicken, salmon or steak.
The early-bird menu also offered plenty of choices: 10 starters, then either 13 pastas or 13 pizzas.
I decided to start with warm chicken and bacon Caesar salad, and then, for something Italian, the lasagna al forno, which was offered accompanied by a salad or chips.
Chips with lasagna would be an Irish combination, rather than an Italian one.
Rocco then ordered a prawn cocktail to start, and followed that with a steak, a 10oz sirloin, which was hardly an Italian meal, but was what he wanted.
Shortly after we'd ordered, I saw a fine-looking pizza come past our table heading to another.
Thankfully I was in time to change my order, and this time I chose the Mollicone, which was pretty much what Italians call a 'capricciosa' -- it had ham, salami, egg and mozzarella.
All we wanted from the wine list was a glass each, and after a little discussion with our host, we left the choice of a red to him. He came back with two glasses of a Salice Salentino, a really full, ripe wine, good value at €5.25 a glass.
Although a bottle of still water was on the house, both Rocco and I wanted sparkling, so we added a bottle of San Pellegrino to our drinks order.
Our starters arrived and I had a generous and nicely presented plate placed before me. If I had any comment to make, it would be only that I would have preferred a little more dressing.
I enjoyed it and ate it, but across the table from me Rocco had a superb prawn cocktail. The prawns were large, firm and perfectly cooked, and accompanied by slices of ripe avocado and well-made cocktail sauce. A real winner of a dish.
Next, our main courses arrived -- a large steak for Rocco cooked medium rare and served with the pepper sauce he'd ordered. Not much to say about this dish, other than it was done well.
What I can comment on was my pizza, which was much better than most that I've had in Dublin.
The crust was good -- crisp and thin, all things that ought be right -- and the filling was also well-judged. Not too much cheese, a good tomato sauce and, overall, a good flavour.
To be honest, I was surprised, because I never expect much from fusion restaurants.
A decent espresso finished the meal and we left contented, after paying a very modest €65.05.
La Dolce Vita is not an Italian restaurant as I understand the word, but it does a good job and it does it at a reasonable cost.
I got the impression that this is a place that tries hard. It has a pride in what it does and it does make you feel at ease and comfortable.
Parents might like to know that on weekends, a child eats for free for each adult paying. If you have children who like pizzas or pasta, this could be a good deal.
On a budget
The early-bird set menu gives you a wide choice of dishes and it’s priced well at €17.95 for two courses. There’s good value too on the kids’ menu, which offers one dish plus a drink for €6.95.
On a blowout
The steaks are the most expensive main courses — the 9oz fillet and the ‘surf and turf’ are both €23.95. The mixed antipasto plate at €9.65 is only just more expensive than the prawn cocktail at €8.95.
La Dolce Vita
Tel: 01 294 6903