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Review: This is going to be one of Dublin’s most popular restaurants

A new, cool but accomplished Italian restaurant lacks only one thing: a bit of bread

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Address: 22 Dawson Street, Dublin D02 Y336
Telephone: 01 662 4736
Cuisine: Italian
Cost: €€€

I love an Italian restaurant where I can afford lunch but can’t really afford dinner. Which sounds like a particularly cruel type of love. The crisp white table linen, the precision of the food, the tome of a wine list, the waiters in white aprons with 40 years’ service, the sight of the Italian ambassador at the very best table.

Francesco Mazzei's Sartoria restaurant on Savile Row in London fits this bill, and the ambassador had a parade of food, from cicchetti to dolci, before, I imagine, finishing with the Ferrero Rochers. I'm not sure we've ever had a restaurant like it in Dublin. I do remember Nico's on Dame Street having what, back in the day, was described as a "certain cachet", but then we all moved on from lasagne. Emilio Cirillo was the joint owner of that restaurant before it closed in 2018.

The Cirillo name is still associated with good restaurants. James Cirillo, his nephew, opened Cirillo's on Baggot Street, installed a wood-burning pizza oven from Naples and bagged 16th place in this year's European 50 Top Pizza guide, an award that carries serious weight.

He has now rather bravely opened another Italian restaurant, Nannetti’s, in the room that never quite cut it for Amuse on Dawson Street in Dublin. As I sit waiting for my starter to arrive, noticing the wait because of the absence of cicchetti or anything to pick on, I think that maybe the room wasn’t quite full-on sow’s ear, it was more a matter of getting it to work. Which Cirillo certainly has, although he hasn’t taken the white linen tablecloth route. That seems perfectly appropriate, as the menu here has two courses for €34 or three for €42.

All the faff has gone: the walls are exposed brick in a warm sandstone colour, there are wooden tables, bentwood chairs, banquettes, globe lights with visible filament bulbs, and there’s a smart marble-topped bar with a few backlit shelves that acts as a focal point. There’s also a very nice little marble counter to the side with a few stools.

The good wait

I order Dublin Bay prawn risotto (€2 supplement). A wait for a risotto is a very good thing indeed. This is the best risotto I’ve had in a long time; it really tastes like it has been made to order. There is a clarity to the broth in which the rice has been cooked that is rich yet vibrant with the flavour of the crustacean shells, and the rice has just a tiny bite. The four prawns on top are sweet and succulent, and the dish is electrified by a hint of basil oil and some oven-roasted tomatoes.

It would seem that our other starter may have been hanging around waiting for the risotto to do its thing, as it is just about warm, which may explain why the pasta in the haggis tortellini seems a little bit firm. But again, the flavours work so well. The earthy haggis and chanterelles on the plate get a spike of freshness from the rocket sauce.

The wine list is impressive, all Italian bottles, ranging from €33 to €500 for the Sassicaia, or you could go all Meghan Markle and opt for the magnum of Tignanello for €440. We resist and the Cantina Mazzei Vermentino (€38), a crisp Sardinian white wine, works throughout our meal.

For the main course the flavours are again vivid and fresh. Linguini nero can be intensely inky if it’s in a squid sauce. Here, the black pasta is tossed in a tomato and chilli sauce and topped with generous chunks of glistening, rosy lobster. Surprisingly, it doesn’t carry a supplement. The hake, which is served in a shellfish broth with tender pieces of braised octopus and borlotti beans, is skilfully cooked, the broth has a clarity of flavour and the only fault I can find is that they don’t serve any bread in Nannetti’s.

We finish with two good desserts, a lemon olive oil cake with poached pear and lemon mascarpone cream, and a pale green pistachio semifreddo with raspberries and warm cardamom caramel.

This may not be white linen Italian dining, but it is the kind of casual restaurant I love. There are none of the usual plodding, predictable dishes – I would be happy to eat everything on the reasonably priced menu. All I need is a bit of bread to mop up those lovely sauces.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €122

Verdict 8.5/10 Great Italian food in a casual, buzzy room Music Wonderfully Italian Food provenance Top-quality Irish and Italian produce Wheelchair access Room is accessible but no accessible toilet Vegetarian options Two starters and one main vegetarian option Facilities Very smart; spanking new

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column