Going out: Simple but stylish Italian food

Cirillo’s on Baggot Street looks like it’s been here forever, and feels like it knows what it’s doing

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Address: 140 Baggot St Lower,
Telephone: (01) 6766848

F urrowed brows and fuzzy guesses are gone with a few taps on a rectangle of brightness these days. I could ask the internet what this corner building used to be before it was transformed into a place that looks like it has been here for decades. But, as the millennial in Noah Baumbach's movie While We're Young suggests when faced with an itch to Google, "Let's just not know."

What I do know is that Italian restaurant Cirillo’s is a welcome sight on a rainy night. It is painted school-uniform green on the outside. Dark furniture and floors are set off with the amber glow of candles and filament bulbs, with the occasional white glare when a phone torch is deployed to better decipher the menus.

The size of the place brings home the tricky tussle in restaurants between small rooms, which people like, and large ones, which accountants like. They seem to have solved this by putting more tables in the basement. And they’re turning their tables pretty swiftly. There was a mention of needing our 7.30pm table back before 9pm when I booked the table in a friend’s name. In the end we’re not asked to vacate our table for two that soon. Why? I just don’t know, but could make a fuzzy guess.

Cirillo’s is a simple idea. It’s a posh pizza and pasta joint, where both staples are given the kinds of craft, time and ingredients that lift them out of the ordinary. So they shipped a wood-fired pizza oven from Naples, pizza dough is slow-proved for 30 hours, and the pasta is house-made every day, according to the website. They even tell you the species of wood – Irish oak and ash – they’re burning to make the pizzas. We’re in proper food nerd territory here. The twist is in the starters, where slightly unexpected ingredients are scattered. Like Rubik’s cubes in a ball pit, the novelty is nice but occasionally puzzling.

Two out of three starters nail things squarely. There’s the liquorice tang of black garlic in a mayonnaise that sits like a dollop of expensive face foundation beside a pile of excellent fried calamari. Lemony balls of rice are moulded around stringy mozzarella and tomato, battered and lightly fried with a Gorgonzola dip that grounds their zing in dairy and a basil oil for prettiness and another layer of flavour.

A plate of peaches and prosciutto is the only wobble. The wood-fired peaches are just three teeny wedges cut so small their blast in the pizza oven has dried them rather than ramping up their lusciousness. The Parma ham is good, but it all comes with a buffalo ricotta. These are delicious, barely solid milk curds, but the texture makes me miss the chew and chomp of mozzarella, a classic that just works.

The pasta is perfect, a calling card for carbs in all their silken loveliness, and just what is needed to counter the dampness outside.

There are soft shards of duck tucked in under ribbons of fettuccine, all set in a soupy sauce where butter and Parmesan have been used with a delightfully heavy hand. There are cherry tomato halves, lightly roasted so they’ve sweetened to wine gums without tipping over into leather.

Across the table there are casarecce, those curled-over pasta shapes that look like they were on their way to being tubes until someone’s hand got tired. They come tumbled with mushrooms and a nduja cream with a kick like a mule that’s only slightly buffered by its creaminess.

I’m slightly thrown when dessert arrives as it looks like a pimped hot chocolate or a glass of Chantilly cream sprayed out of a can. But it’s a ricotta mousse gorgeously lemony enough to make my friend do her best Maggie Smith dowager mouth when she takes a taste. It’s laced with small, lethal cherries, so soaked in (I’m guessing) Amaretto that each is like a booze balloon popping in your mouth. An almond crumble has been layered through the whole glass of loveliness to add crunch.

Cirillo’s doesn’t just look like a place that has been there for ages – it feels like a place that knows what it’s doing, with a young, professional team and a forgiveable eagerness to feed as many folk as the place can hold.

It’s harder to hide behind smoke and mirrors when you’re doing simple food. This much I know, and it’s why I like Cirillo’s a lot.  Dinner for two with two bottles of water, two glasses of wine and a tea came to €88.25