Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Paulie’s Pizzeria, Dublin 4
It's been more than 20 years since I closed my restaurant, Armstrong's Barn. The recession of the 1980s had hit us hard and, coupled with being totally flooded by Hurricane Charlie, meant we couldn't keep going.
But that did leave us with a problem: what next?
The answer that came to us was a recording studio. What had been the restaurant became a studio for quite a few artists -- even Zig and Zag made an album there.
One day, outside the studio, I could make out the faint sounds of a piano. I listened harder and heard some virtuoso playing.
It was an Italian composer and pianist called Antonio Breschi who was making the music.
We became friends and are still to this day. He was back in Dublin this week to organise a concert on August 12 in the National Concert Hall, so that gave us a chance to meet up for dinner.
In truth, there aren't many places you can take an Italian to eat in Dublin. There's no shortage of restaurants that call themselves Italian, but the food they serve is more hybrid than authentic.
But I had an idea. A restaurant that I was introduced to by Kevin Dundon, called Juniors on Bath Avenue, has now opened a pizzeria called Paulie's.
I liked Juniors, and I'd heard that Paulie's had a proper pizza oven, so it looked like a good bet.
In Italy, catering establishments are classified quite strictly. There are ristoranti, which offer high levels of food and service; there are trattorie, which are casual and have limited menus; and then then there are pizzerie, which normally offer a few starters, perhaps some pasta dishes, but mostly pizzas.
Getting a table in Paulie's isn't easy -- it's ridiculously busy and there are often queues outside.
After a wait, we got a table and looked at the menu. It read like a pizzeria menu in Italy -- some starters, five pasta dishes and a lot of pizzas. These were divided into classic Neapolitan pizzas, New York-inspired pizzas and those of their own invention.
We decided that a good test for the kitchen would be to order the gnocchi alla Sorrentina. Gnocchi are made of potato and flour, but if they're made carelessly, they become as hard as bullets when cooked.
That was to share, and then we also ordered the bocconcini, which are little balls of mozzarella, breaded and then deep fried, which we also shared. Then we picked a pizza each, a Margherita DOC. for Antonio and a capricciosa for me.
There's a very basic wine list of 16 wines, but they're all priced below €30 and nearly all of them are available by the glass.
Antonio picked out a decent Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, named after southern Italy's highest mountain, Gran Sasso, which was priced at €7 a glass.
I limited myself to sparkling water.
The starters arrived and we were both impressed. The bocconcini wasn't a difficult dish to do, but it was tasty and well made with good-quality mozzarella.
The gnocchi dish, though, was as good as you'd have got in Sorrento. The gnocchi themselves were very well made and the tomato sauce was good.
Add to that the same good-quality mozzarella we'd got with the bocconcini and the result was really good.
All the pizzas in Paulie's are 12 inches in diameter, so they're plenty filling. In case you were wondering, the Margherita DOC differs from the standard Margherita because it uses buffalo mozzarella rather than the cow's milk variety.
The capricciosa is the pizza I always have when I'm in Italy, and what I got had nearly the same topping as you'd get in Italy. But where the pizzas made both Antonio and me happy was the base.
It was a classic Neapolitan base, the centre with the filling thin and the edge allowed to rise.
Quite often when I eat a pizza, I'll leave the outer edge on the plate, but when you have a really good base even the untopped edge is good to eat.
Only two days earlier, I'd eaten in a pizzeria in my Italian home town and, just like in Paulie's, I ended up eating the whole of the crust. I'd suggest that when that happens, you've got a good crust before you.
What Italians like when they go to a pizzeria is to find a proper pizza oven. It's a large domed oven, preferably wood-fired, which gives pizzas the inimitable flavour of wood smoke.
At the far end of Paulie's little kitchen sits a very handsome example of the pizza oven, which was decorated in small, multi-coloured tiles. Not only is there a proper pizza oven, but I was told they also have two Neapolitan pizza chefs.
We shared a dessert, which was a panna cotta that had just the right degree of wobble, meaning that it had been made with the right amount of gelatine.
Although the food is very good in Paulie's, there are a few reasons why you might not like it.
The chairs are far from comfortable, the tables are small and cramped, there's very little space between the tables and the noise level is high.
And if you'd feel uncomfortable being the only person in the dining room over 30, then perhaps Paulie's might not be for you.
None of the above, with the possible exception of the uncomfortable chairs, stopped us from enjoying our meal, which was also helped by the excellent service.
We didn't linger, and indeed you're not encouraged to, so, after a so-so espresso from an impressive- looking espresso machine, we got our bill for €77.20.
58 Upper Grand
Tel: 01 6643658
On a budget
The cheapest pizza is their Napoletana, which is more properly called a Marinara, and it is priced at €10, good value for a 12in pizza. A glass of house wine to go with that is €5.50.
On a blowout
None of the starters is more than €10, but you could start with chargrilled quail for €9 and follow that with linguini with clams, the most expensive dish on the menu at €18.