We have a shrieker at the next table. I’d like to ask her to use her indoor voice. “She went to the bathroom and everything got quiet,” the friend who’s nearest whispers. A restaurant with a higher ceiling might have been able to take it, but in Osteria Lucio, tucked into the tunnel under a bridge, it all gets a bit Hysteria Lucio.
Osteria Lucio is a restaurant that's had more name changes than a Mafia boss on the run. It began life as the Bridge Bar and Grill and was reinvented as Pizza e Porchetta. Now, under the eye of chef-owner Ross Lewis, it's aiming to be the kind of Italian restaurant we haven't managed to recreate on Irish soil. Not New York Italian, not a pizza-and-pasta joint (although they serve both) but a place where you put down your fork, close your eyes and wonder, "How do they make the tomato sauce taste so good and why aren't they doing it everywhere else?"
The food is flouncier than I expected. Lewis has an overseer role and hasn’t left his Chapter One kitchen to come and cook here. But these plates have seen a fair amount of squeezy bottle action, some precision knife work and concentrated drizzling. Food finessing like this can sometimes be an attempt to dicky up ordinary ingredients. That’s not the case here.
So there are soft discs of salt-baked celeriac sliced translucent thin and topped with shredded celeriac, tiny sprinkles of grated egg yolk and a walnut pesto. There are matchsticks of apple and a few skin-soft ribbons of pancetta. You wrap up each mound in celeriac and get everything you want in a parcel of loveliness.
There’s a volcanic pot of hot olives speckled with fennel seeds and orange peel, a new idea to everyone at the table. Saro, the Sicilian amongst us, says the huge fleshy ones remind him of his grandfather’s home-made olives, which he picked and cured in a huge jar every year.
All the other starters have vegetables centre-stage, not duty greens but the kind of veg that make you happy to be in the hands of a kitchen putting as much thought into sourcing stuff as they are into cooking it. There are petal thin slices of beet, sensational sprouting broccoli with feathery lumps of goats cheese, smoked almonds and a Dijon mustard sauce. Asparagus spears have been grilled whole and mandolined with a crispy duck’s egg that looks like a whole lemon sitting in the middle. The bruschetta of the day has all kinds of beautifully charred vegetables laced with just enough chilli to keep you interested under a snow fall of freshly grated Parmesan. It’s ace, as it should be for €7.50.
There's more sprouting broccoli under my sea bream which has a vapour trail of ground salted almonds slashed across it and dots of anchovy mayo, packing more fishiness than a condensed Moby Dick. A pea puree ties it all together.
Liam has taken one for the team. He would love pizza but he is having the pork. Plain pork chops don’t get served in restaurants as they’re typically spongy factory-farmed protein with all the allure of cavity insulation. This one tastes like it came from a happy and active pig.
Jeanne’s wood-fired pizza is a chilli-laced spicy salami with honey and goat’s cheese, perfect pig, salt, heat and sweet. Saro loves the pizza but would like just a little more smoke flavour from the wood-fired oven to really transport him home. In the end it’s the tomato sauce on some fluffy house gnocchi that does it.
To finish there’s a tiramisu which could do with a little more denseness in its biscuity layers but flavourwise is spot on. An affogato comes with amaretti biscuits crumbled over the textbook vanilla ice cream before a perfect espresso is poured over it.
Simple is everything, as any Italian will tell you. Execute simple great food brilliantly and we have what’s evolved in Osteria Lucio: an Italian restaurant worth shouting about.
Dinner for four with a bottle of wine came to €157.70.
The verdict: 8/10 Great food superbly cooked in a convivial cavern
Second helping . . .
Tables at David Muñoz's three-star DiverXO in Madrid are like hen's molars so I tried his street food offering on the roof of the El Corte Inglés department store instead. But sadly StreetXO was vile, a food idea reborn as joyless zombie parody. The chefs wear straitjacket whites and food is served on glossy paper. Some of the dishes had wild squirts of sauce like a murder scene. None of them tasted any better than a €5 tapas. The only nice thing was the view. Much better was Jordi Roca's ice cream parlour. One of the three brothers from world's best restaurant Celler de Can Roca his ice-creams cost €4.50 each and don't involve a 40-minute queue. Roca's white asparagus ice cream sprinkled with truffle shards and salt was heaven in a cardboard cup.
El Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience, 52 Calle Serrano, Madrid