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'Most bizarre thing I ever ate? Deep fried scorpion...and it was delicious'

PAOLO TULLIO grew up in restaurants, surrounded by thick saucepans, homemade stock and rich sauces.

As one of this country's most respected restaurant critics, he's travelled the world sampling a huge range of both delicious and disgusting dishes.

"I have had camel's hump in Algeria, cobra in Singapore and bear in Estonia," the 63-year-old told The Herald.

"But the most bizarre meal I've ever eaten was in Vietnam," he recalled. "I was presented with deep fried scorpion: big, black, nasty creatures."

While most people may have turned their noses up at the delicacy, Paolo tucked in straight away.

"I make a point of never refusing food. It's what I do. So I tried them and they were delicious; they tasted like pork crackling filled with crab meat – amazing."

Paolo is softly spoken but a passionate and gregarious character. He wears his hair brushed back and has dark, round eyes – like a koala bear.

Born near the Italian village of Cassino to parents Tonino and Irene, Paolo has been the resident food critic at the Irish Independent for over 15 years.

"It's the longest time I've ever done anything," he exclaims. The father of two loves the bustle and hustle of the restaurant world, and the pace at which it constantly evolves and changes.

 

LUNACY

"I like the atmosphere, the food, the talk, and the turnover. There's always a new cafe or bar opening up."

While dining out at the top restaurants around Ireland and the world may sound like an enviable job, there are downsides to sampling all those buttery rich dishes and fine wines.

A year and a half ago, Paolo was diagnosed with critical kidney problems. He now has a dialysis machine installed in his Wicklow home to avoid suffering chronic kidney failure.

"I used to drink more, but I have to watch it a bit because of my kidneys," he explains.

"I knew something was wrong about two years ago. I was tired and wanted to keep taking naps. The doctors told me there was a problem with my kidneys.

"Now I have to get my blood cleaned three times a week. It takes three hours. It's a bit of an inconvenience but the alternative is death. So I would rather go for the inconvenience."

Raised in the UK, Paolo moved here when he was 18 to study philosophy and psychology at Trinity College, and says he instantly fell in love with Dublin. "Within the first week at TCD, I realised I wanted to stay here forever. I liked the lunacy and the madness and the messiness of Ireland.

 

FLOODED

"Things have become a little more regulated and ordered now, but there is still a touch of madness there."

It was here Paolo met some of his closest friends, including artistic director of The Gate, Michael Colgan, singer Chris de Burgh, and U2 manager Paul McGuinness.

Paolo lives in the picturesque village of Annamoe in Co Wicklow, in what was once the restaurant Armstrong's Barn.

"It was my family's restaurant, and a very good restaurant – it had a Michelin star. I ran the place for years. But the 80s were miserable, really miserable. We got hit by Hurricane Charlie in 1986 and were badly flooded. So we finally closed it down in 1989."

It may no longer be in business but Paolo still resides at Armstrong Barn and splits his time between Wicklow and Dalkey – where his partner of five years, tax consultant Marian Kenny, lives. "I'm there a few nights a week and then back here. It works out nicely."

The knowledgeable foodie describes himself as a 'Jack of All Trades'. After his restaurant closed down in 1989, he returned to his TCD players roots, appearing in several feature films such as The Butcher Boy, and on stage at Dublin's Gate Theatre in Betrayal and Tartuffe.

"They were never particularly big parts but – there is no such thing as small parts."

Paolo is also a familiar face on our TV sets; he appeared on the streets of Carrigstown, and is resident critic on RTE's The Restaurant.

"Of course I'd love to do more TV but the tricky part is getting someone to ask you," he laughs. Perhaps, he's best known for his writing. Aside from his weekly column, Paolo has also penned three books; Mushroom Man, North of Naples, South of Rome and most recently Longing And Belonging.

Set in the last century, Longing And Belonging is his second venture into fiction writing. It tells the rags to riches story of heroine Celeste Bassetti; a strong- willed Italian woman who suffers a great deal of hardship.

 

MEMOIRS

Paolo says it is the most testing book he has ever written – taking over seven years to complete. "I got half way through and got seriously stuck. I got terrible writer's block and just couldn't get anywhere," he says. "So I wrote the final chapter. I needed a finishing line. You often think; 'Why am I doing this to myself?'"

Despite this Paolo has already embarked on his next writing project; his own memoirs.

"I started my memoirs six months ago. I have a lot of funny and interesting stories but it's quite tricky because I have no memory; I forget everything. So I'm asking my friends 'What happened in the 90s?' 'Who was there?'

"I'm hoping with a bit of team effort I'll be able to piece together my life and it will all come together in the end."

Longing And Belonging is available to order online on Amazon and at https://www.createspace.com/3930282


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