We are sitting at one of Dublin’s hottest tables. But only just. A heatwave turns everyone’s head, and so it is in Angelina’s, the ground-floor restaurant in one of Dublin’s most expensive apartment blocks.
The Percy Place building has a canalside terrace out the back. I’ve been casting sweaty glances at it from the opposite bank on evening runs. Then someone texts me the morning after eating there to say how good it was, just in case I’m in the market for a “new victim”.
Always. So I pick up the phone on a sun-drenched day and am not surprised to hear the terrace is fully booked. I use a friend’s name and Jeanne announces herself a few hours later, wrangling a deal to sit on the terrace for an hour. Several tables around her are empty. That’s a lot of no-shows, or is this some kind of VIP area with an invisible red velvet rope?
In walks muggins. Within minutes we’re told they have moved things around and we can stay on the terrace. It’s their terrace to do with what they wish, but I would have admired the cajones had they brought us inside after the allotted hour. And it would have been no hardship. Angelina’s on the inside is decked out with booth tables, some of them great curved ones. There are busy tiles on the walls and floors, which give it all a confident, clubby look.
We start with still-warm focaccia that does what good bread should – steadies the ship. From here on in, the only flapping is from the bird life on the canal.
The menu at Angelina’s is best described as posh Italian, although a cheese-loving Italian might splutter at the description of “grand pandano parmesan” bon bons on the list of starters. These turn out to be delightful fluffy fried gobstoppers of warm, salty cheese, without any oiliness. But lads, it’s grana padano and it’s not a type of parmesan. It’s a similar but different cheese, often used as a cheaper substitute for the king of cheeses.
The cheeseballs sit in teaspoon-sized blobs of the aubergine caponata, nicely stewed finely diced chunks of vegetables with swollen sultanas, which sweeten it up several notches. These take it away from the caponata that Jeanne’s Sicilian husband would make. Still, there are as many caponatas as Sicilian under the sun, and this one is good.
My starter strikes me as a more Spanish than Italian: lengths of octopus with small potato chunks and scattering of leaves over the top. Squid ink mayo instead of smoked paprika goes some way to wrestling it back to Italian shores. The grilled octopus is disappointingly cold, but it is described as a salad, a hint I missed.
John Dory fillets come surrounded by skinned yellow baby tomatoes, with little mouth bombs of sweet juice dotted around the fish, along with crisp juicy leaves of young pak choi. It’s a beautiful but not terribly large plate of food. “Someone has informed the kitchen that I’m on a diet,” Jeanne jokes.
My main is the weakest dish of the night. Orecchiette (“little ears”) is one of my favourite pasta shapes, curved delicate cups that each hold onto their own tiny bowlful of sauce, so you get pasta without the chin dribbles. Unfortunately, some of these orecchiette also have the texture of ears, and are on the chewier side of al dente.
The sauce is a good rustic pork stew, but it’s so heavily laced with chilli that it’s difficult to discern the meat as much other than a background base note to the fieriness. The yellow sprinkling of fennel pollen on the top may as well have been thrown to the wind, for all the flavour it’s able to muscle onto the plate.
Desserts are great, as they should be at these prices. There’s a citrusy crème brûlée with a shard of white chocolate studded with dried cranberries. A vanilla honeycomb sundae is served in a jelly bowl rather than a tall glass, but the bowl has it all: toasted pecans and boulders of honeycomb held in place by spoon-sticking salted caramel sauce.
Angelina’s is reaching a notch higher in the kitchen and has brought some competent cooking to a great new room on the water. The restaurant opens up lingering in a lovely part of Dublin dominated by offices and people in a hurry. It would be easier to forgive the dishes that don’t quite work if the food was more keenly priced (that John Dory main is €26). Then again, nothing is going cheap here, except maybe the baby birds paddling after their mothers on the canal outside.
Dinner for two with sparkling water, a bottle of Wicklow Wolf and two glasses of wine came to €104.45.
Angelina's Restaurant, 55 Percy Place, Dublin 4; Tel: 01-6602262.
Facilities: Designed to within an inch of their lives.
Music: Wildlife outside, pop inside.
Food provenance: Scant. Dexter beef and Ballymaloe relish get mentions.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Vegetarian options: Limited.
THE VERDICT: 6.5/10 - A great room on the water and good cooking in spots.