Manifesto review: great food in Rathmines

This Italian restaurant, just beside Rathmines town hall clock, serves fine meat, pizza and pasta

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Manifesto is a byword for disappointment. Rubbed bare and shabby by use, it’s a word that loosely translates as “We promised you the sun, moon and stars but in the meantime here’s a small damp cloud to be going on with.”

So it’s a pleasant surprise to go to a restaurant called Manifesto and get much more than you expected. We came for pizza, good pizza by the looks of the puffy brown crusts smelling delightfully of burnt paper as they slide out of the stone oven at the front of this small restaurant. But there are so many different and alluring things on the menu we’re spurning the pizza oven and heading down a different path.

Manifesto is in a busy strip of Rathmines in Dublin. Blink and you'd mistake it for another mediocre food place in the shadow of Rathmines town hall, with its beautiful stopped clock like a full moon in the inky night sky. The restaurant is painted duck egg green outside. Inside the clock has also stopped somewhere around the late 1990s, in a good way.

There is real old brick and stone exposed in the side walls. Fake beams are installed in the ceiling, old country trattoria style. It’s a long room with tables closely packed in like train seats, decorated with a white table runner and paper napkins.

Unable to get through on the phone earlier, we just arrive in what we hope is time enough to bag a table. It’s ours for an hour, the waitress says. Right so.

That come hither menu is divided into vegetable, fish and meat dishes. As if to prove its full-bloodedness, the meat dishes are comically meaty. Rabbit stuffed with pork sausage in a jacket of pancetta anyone? Or the ham hock and chicken liver terrine wrapped in Parma ham? It’s a more is more approach to the eating of food with a face.

Vegetables are not left out of the party. There’s ravioli stuffed with aubergines, drink-coaster-sized disks of pasta stuffed with gently cooked aubergine. No smoke flavour here, just aubergine in its creamy and sweet incarnation. The star of the dish are matchstick shards of sticky pear, which the menu tells us have been caramelised in horse chestnut honey.

The whole shebang is served in a light creamy caciocavallo cheese sauce, milky and mild like bechamel with none of the glutenous heft. There could be more pear without tipping this over too far.

A bruschetta, like any simple dish, is a good test of what they’re at. And here it’s crisped house-made bread toasted lightly and drizzled with grassy olive oil. There’s a mozzarella that’s more like a burrata, the barely-solid still-milky-cheese version of mozzarella that opens with a spill of cream. Rocket is great and tomatoes just so.

The best main is a special of the night, recommended heartily by the waitress. Handmade strigoli, nubbly hand rolled curls of pasta that have just enough crevices to hold on to the sauce, come tossed with monkfish, toasted pine nuts and some more sweetly perfect cherry tomatoes. There’s a classically good red pepper sauce but the zinger is fresh mint shredded through the dish. Lesser by-the-book Italian restaurants would have put basil in this. The mint is something I’ll be doing at home from now on.

N'dunderi come with the best chest-thumping menu boast I've seen in a while. It's a "medieval dish brought back by Manifesto". A quick look on the internet shows they're not actually the sole outpost of this dish. There are delicious clams, still soft from a gentle steaming and tossed with the chewy little fellas that are the dunderi, thumb-tip-sized gnocchi made with ricotta cheese. There's a bright green flat parsley pesto which, I suspect, is the source of the oversalting, which doesn't do anything for the dish.

Desserts come on slates but we’re too full to go there so I’ll grumble about that another time. The place is packed when we arrive and more hopeful people without bookings come in as we leave. Manifesto is the best kind of place, a hardworking unpretentious Italian where everyone’s relaxed because everyone knows what they’re doing. No promises are broken in the making of the meals. It’s my kind of place.

Dinner for two with sparkling water came to €60