Maybe it will be summer now, when you read this, but for the moment it is Junuary. Dressing for Junuary has been a challenge. The wool winter coat has kept the worst of the rain off but everything below the hem has been so drenched by the cloudburst I may as well have waded through water to get here.
The friend has abandoned his two wheels and jumped in a taxi, still wearing a hi-vis and carrying his bike helmet like the victim of a strange drive-by bike theft. But we’re headed to a good place for two damp diners.
The welcome warmth of Dunne & Crescenzi in Sandymount is a virtual hug as soon as we push open the glass door and step inside. The restaurant in one of Dublin’s loveliest villages is part of the wife-and-husband operation of Eileen Dunne and Stefano Crescenzi. It is two decades this year since they first opened their South Frederick Street wine shop and deli where the whole shebang started.
This outpost is called Crudo, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice. Crudo means raw in Italian but the only raw part has been the journey here. Everything else is cosy, the place painted carbon-copy purple outside with the Dunne & Crescenzi name over the door. The name Crudo appears only on the top of the menu and the one raw dish, an orange-cured sea bream.
The restaurant feels cut from the model of the mother ship, taking its decor theme from a simpler time when bricks were hidden behind plasterboard and bulbs remained modestly unexposed under lampshades. There are ceiling fans slowly moving the warm air around, wooden chairs and tables and shelves along the wall packed with wine and prosecco bottles.
Apricot and cumin
The waiter notices a barely perceptible table wobble and arrives with a cardboard wedge to keep it steady. It is, he says, the biggest problem in the restaurant. “If that’s your biggest problem then you’re not doing too badly,” my friend tells him.
And there are no problems on the plates. It’s rustic Italian cooking here, the kind of village restaurant that we once fell into on our holidays and then wondered why we couldn’t find food like that back home. There are good spears of chargrilled asparagus on a spongey wedge of toast topped with whipped ricotta and an egg and mint dressing that’s got a picnic vibe off it, in a good way.
The other starter of battered monkfish comes with one minor quibble with the lovely chalk white fish encased in a beer batter. It’s that the small bowl with its even smaller circumference makes it tricky to fish them out. They’re served with a lovely apricot and cumin ketchup that shows a kitchen thinking on its toes rather than slapping out the staples.
My main course is slightly less dazzling. I love the fact that they’ve teamed mackerel with puttanesca in a gutsy fish pasta dish that feels like something you might eat in a tiny Italian fishing village. They’ve lifted it into summery flavours with a pea and mint puree that has been squeezed over the dish like an attack of bright green caterpillars. But the leathery green olives make it too much of an evergreen dish. At this time of the year, broadbeans or freshly podded peas would have been much better.
My friend gets the “don’t tell his [vegetarian and vegan] children” veal special, juicy rounds of pale sweet meat teamed with truffle gnocchi in a plate that is an all-Italian tribute to the occasional splurge into the less-but-better meat diet.
The dazzle is back for dessert. The waiter recommends the panna cotta and we’re glad we listened. It’s a perfect silky round of solid cooked cream surrounded by dots of bright pink rhubarb sauce which are interspersed with bright green basil and topped off with a hazelnut crumb for crunch. It’s as good a panna cotta as I’ve had anywhere in Dublin. The olive oil chocolate cake is dense and sooty with sea salt and creme fraiche to cut a small slash through its richness.
Neighbourhood restaurants make you feel like you’re at home. Good ones like Crudo serve food that’s several notches above what you might get on a trip to the brighter lights of the city centre.
Dinner for two with two glasses of wine and an apple juice came to €100.50
- Verdict A hearty neighbourhood place
- Facilities Small
- Wheelchair access Room is accessible but no wheelchair toilet
- Vegetarian options Limited
- Provenance Good. McLoughlin's Butchers and Coastguard Seafood in Annagassan among local suppliers. Lots sourced "direct from Italy".
- Music Wallpaper sounds