Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at San Lorenzo, Dublin 2
I'm old enough to remember a time in Ireland when, if you asked the question 'Can you name a chef?', you'd only have got one answer -- Sean Kinsella. He had a restaurant in Sandycove called The Mirabeau and his name was almost constantly in the newspapers.
The great and the good of the 1970s were his clientele and his prices were legendary, so it came as a surprise to just about everyone when his restaurant closed down.
Ask that same question today and you could get myriad answers. Chefs, these days, are household names -- they're on the telly, the radio and in print. If you took food out of the TV schedules, you'd be left with a big hole to fill.
I've made the point before, but I'll make it again. If you like good food, you have to be faithful to the chef, not to their place of work.
Chefs move about from place to place all the time, so when you find a chef whose food you like, you have to be prepared to follow when they move to a new restaurant.
If you were to divide the chefs of Ireland into divisions like the football league, there's little doubt that Temple Garner would be in division one.
He came to prominence a while ago when he cooked in The Mermaid restaurant, then he was a founding partner of Town Bar & Grill, a place that has endeared itself to many Dubliners, and, most recently, he opened the kitchen in Dillinger's of Ranelagh.
Now he has opened his own restaurant on George's Street in Dublin called San Lorenzo, in the building where Juice vegetarian restaurant used to be.
It has been described as a 'New York-style Italian restaurant', and I was unsure what exactly that meant, but to help me find out I had the company of Sophie Kenny, who spent the past 11 months in New York. If anyone could help me with the New York angle, it was her.
Let's start with the name, San Lorenzo. Every year I'm in Italy for his feast day on August 10, which is celebrated by chefs and cooks, since he's the patron saint of cookery.
An appropriate name for a restaurant, then, and one used in London as well -- there's a restaurant called San Lorenzo in Beauchamp Place that was made notable by its most famous customer, Princess Diana.
From the outside, Dublin's San Lorenzo looked rather smart, with shiny black paintwork. Inside, it has a minimalist feel -- the walls are entirely bare, devoid of paintings or hangings of any kind.
One wall is painted a deep, warm red, the other is made of varnished panels of plywood. This same plywood is used to make the benches, which are not unlike park benches, and they surround tables made of the same plywood.
The high ceiling is home to the exposed air-extraction system. At the back wall, there's a wide gap through which you can see the kitchen and the chefs at work.
"Does it remind you of New York?" I asked Sophie, who is a perfect exemplar of boho chic.
"A bit, yes. Certainly the view into kitchen is very New York in style."
Not very definitive, so maybe the transatlantic element was to be found on the menus.
We had two: an early bird (which was also the lunch menu) and a dinner menu. I made an executive decision -- Sophie would choose from the dinner menu and I'd pick from the early bird.
There's no doubt that there's an Italian influence on the menu -- most of the dishes have an Italian ingredient or two.
On the dinner menu, starters were calamari a la Romana, a pear and Gorgonzola salad, porchetta with tuna, Parma ham and a Connemara beef bresaola.
Main courses were more of a fusion, but there were still plenty of Italian ingredients such as peperonata, caponata, salsiccia and cannellini beans.
On the early-bird menu, my choices were a shin-beef and tomato soup, pan-fried gambas, a prosciutto salad or a Caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella for starters, then rack of lamb, crab linguini, rack of pork or a grilled cod fillet for mains.
Sophie decided on the pear and Gorgonzola salad followed by the rack of lamb, while I started with the shin- beef soup and followed that with the rack of pork. This last choice turned out to be off the menu and was replaced with belly of pork rolled in gremolata, so I was happy to take the replacement.
There's a good wine list here, put together by Sean Gargano of Grapecircus, and, luckily for us, this was one of his nights on the floor.
It's rare that a sommelier has as much wine knowledge as Sean, so we let him guide us to a glass of red for Sophie -- a Kalterersee Auslese from Italy's Alto Adige region made from Schiava grapes, and a dry Tokaji from Hungary made from the Furmint grape for me. Both super wines priced at €7 and €7.50 respectively.
Our starters were good, the soup rich and warming, a mix of beef tomatoes and borlotti beans, while Sophie's salad was a good mix of Gorgonzola, poached pear, dandelion leaves and balsamic vinegar.
Her main course, too, was nicely done, the lamb chops perfectly cooked and tender accompanied by a small pot of slow-braised shoulder.
My main course of the rolled belly was perhaps less successful, the gremolata flavours lost somewhere in the cooking, but with good lentils and crisp duck-fat roasties alongside.
We finished with a dessert to share -- the dark chocolate pot with frangelico and Nutella, comfortingly sweet and unctuous.
An espresso for me and a tea for Sophie brought the bill to €89.50.
Castle House, South
Street, Dublin 2
Tel. 01 478 9383
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10