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Grano review: the best early bird in Dublin

Review Authentic cuisine of the bottom half of Italy comes to Stoneybatter

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Address: 5 Norseman Court, Dublin 7
Telephone: 01-5382003
Cuisine: Italian
Cost: €€

Veronica is making pasta at the counter in Grano in Stoneybatter, Dublin. She’s using the flat of her palms to roll lengths of dough around a pliable stalk that looks like a stick of dried spaghetti.

It’s a baton that’s been passed from the matriarch at the heart of this place to the rest of the young crew. The tubes of fileja pasta are fatter in the middle and tapering at the ends. The hand-made food will be boiled and served to a waiting room of happy eaters.

Up until two days ago Roberto Mungo’s mother, Roma, was making the pasta in this small restaurant. She arrived a couple of months ago to oversee the setting-up of her son’s new venture.

He bought her an apron with Mamma Roma printed on it. She brought lots of the smooth green plant stalks – Roberto calls them needles – that she uses to roll her pasta at home. Under Roma’s eye (and I’m guessing it was an exacting one), the staff were trained in how to do things.


Matriarchal stamp duly applied, Roma packed up and went home. This is mother and grandmother cooking. Roberto’s grandmother ran a restaurant that served just two dishes: the fileja pasta and tripe.

There are more than two dishes on the menu here, and no tripe. My Italian friend has questions. Italy is not one country, he says, but 20 different regions, each with their own approach to cooking.

Things are done in certain ways in certain places, and terrible food crimes have been committed against the food of his childhood. Cappuccinos have been sipped in the evening with a tomato-topped pizza, the forbidden combination of milk and tomato and the wrong time of day. It’s been enough to give any self-respecting Italian the heebie-jeebies.

The frisella di farro looks totally ordinary, two biscuity brown rusks with yellow and red cherry tomatoes on top, but then you taste it and happiness happens

Grano is small and simple, with wooden tables and chairs. The ceiling has been blanketed with fairy lights, and tealights are dotted in jam jars around the place. Blow heaters take the chill off the room and the all-Italian kitchen is tiny and packed.

The friend reports that “everyone is from Rome down”. So we get the food of the bottom half of Italy, such as the capocollo, a cured salami from Martina Franca in Puglia. It’s on a plate served simply at room temperature so the fat is fudgy around the meat, which is cured and smoked and utterly gorgeous. The slices are served with a half round of burrata.

“Is it crying, the burrata?” Saro asks. It’s just holding itself together but the milky weep is all there, tang and creaminess held together with a pliable outer skin of mozzarella, a blister of deliciousness.

There’s the frisella di farro, a plate that does that great thing Italian food can do: it looks totally ordinary, two biscuity brown rusks with yellow and red cherry tomatoes on top, but then you taste it and happiness happens. The rusks are made with nutty spelt, crisped and then softened with grassy extra virgin olive oil.

Young fresh oregano has been applied to the tomatoes along with plenty of garlic. Our third starter is a bowl of soft meatballs laced with heat from nduja, the spiced spreadable sausage that brings meaty heat to things.

The mains are fresh from the stove – comfort cooking. There’s a hearty bowl of scialatelli pasta (chunky strings of it like spaghetti on steroids) laced through with unapologetically fishy anchovies, capers, breadcrumbs and pine nuts.

Those hand-rolled fileja come with the simplest of things an organic tomato sauce with baby basil leaves just wilting in its heat and a shaving of smoked baked ricotta. I have the pumpkin gnocchi, which manage to be satisfyingly dense without tipping into stodgeville.

They’re helped by a light-as-air cream, some freshly grated black truffle with a muted flavour rather than the typical mushroomy honk.

It's the beloved food of childhood. That's the kind of cooking that crosses borders and translates into great food even if the childhood was someone else's

We order the three desserts on the early bird. There’s a light tiramisu, not just home-made but freshly whipped up. There’s a small panna cotta with a coulis of cactus figs, which is surprisingly pink and tangy rather than the sugary darkness figs usually bring to the table.

And there’s a plate of salame al cioccolato, the simplest thing that tastes like versions I have made at home, good chocolate melted with butter and studded with nuts before being wrapped into a round and chilled like a salami, then sliced in generously thick rounds like chocolate biscuits without the biscuit.

Comfort home cooking can’t be faked or mood-boarded into being with gingham tablecloths and Insta-friendly touches. Grano is the kind of place that won’t get distracted by trends.

It’s the beloved food of childhood. That’s the kind of cooking that crosses borders and translates into great food even if the childhood was someone else’s. And the €24 early bird is the best dinner steal in town. My friend is heading off to call home, and tell his mum the good news.

Dinner for three with sparkling water came to €84.50

Verdict: Terrific hand-made, home-cooked Italian food without shortcuts 
Facilities: Small 
Music: Nice, old school
Food provenance: A map of Italian regional foods
Wheelchair access: No
Vegetarian options: Limited but good

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests