There's a new Italian in town

Chef Temple Garner is at the helm of a new business in Dublin’s restaurant row, George’s Street, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

Chef Temple Garner is at the helm of a new business in Dublin's restaurant row, George's Street, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

STARK IS PROBABLY the best word to describe San Lorenzo’s Italian restaurant on Dublin’s George’s Street, where the vegetarian restaurant Juice used to be. I vaguely remember jungle-scale plants and pictures in Juice, and a friend who loved to point out the number of people puffing on fags outside. Vegetarian smokers were an endless source of amusement to him. Now it’s vegetation-free. Manly industrial chic has come striding in here. There’s isn’t so much as a potted fern to break the acres of varnished ply, painted concrete floor and empty walls.

One wall is entirely timber studded with the screws that hold it all up. The other is painted red and the ceiling is black. Benches that have a deck-chair look and feel about them are lined up at long rows of tables on either side of the box that is this refectory-style room. With a little tugging they turn into tables for two. All the smooth ply on the wall gives it the feel of sitting inside a gigantic Ikea flatpack cabinet.

In the spirit of all that starkness you’d imagine they’d call it something minimalist but instead we’ve got a flouncy name in lights over the door. San Lorenzo’s sounds more like an Italian from Central Casting decked out with a fake pillars and red gingham tablecloths. It’s as if an old Italian restaurant has just been taken over by a son, who’s ruthlessly boxed up the wicker-clad Chianti candle holders, dispatched them to the recycling centre and moved on (with a sentimental reprieve for the flowery lampshades).


But the real story is different. San Lorenzo’s is the (literally) box-fresh new venture of chef-patron Temple Garner, who cooked in Town Bar and Grill before he set up shop here.

And the good news is that this big, slightly-self-consciously blank canvas is the backdrop for some excellent food. Dinner starts well with oven-fresh bread and gorgeous olives when we sit down. It’s a quiet night and we get plenty of help with the wine order from a young friendly wine guy who’s keen as mustard about the new place.

My pan-fried sardines come wrapped in a leathery tasty layer of prosciutto. They taste like they’ve spent a good many hours in an earthy green-olive, rosemary and tomato marinade. They’re as meaty as these fiddly fish can be, with plenty of hair-fine bones in them that can make them a bit much for the finicky. But they’re very tasty. A second starter of gambas with chilli, white wine and garlic is skilfully done. I get a glass of the house Picpoul (€6.50) and my friend gets the house red, an Italian wine from the Marche region (€6) on recommendation from the chatty wine guy. He has hit the spot and she orders a second.

The main courses dial up the cooking a notch more with a perfectly fried piece of stonebass (a fish that’s also known as a wreckfish due to its propensity for lurking around shipwrecks). It’s served with gorgeous thinly sliced white turnip, and dressed with brown shrimp, lemon and juicy capers. A bowl of fantastic buttery samphire with waxy fingerling potatoes comes on the side. A second main of rib-eye steak has had the well-done request taken to its extreme but a herb butter melts alluringly on top and it comes with delicious sage and mustard mash, and beautiful florets of romanesco broccoli.

A dessert of apricot panettone bread and butter pudding is eye-rollingly good, and probably has enough calories in it to derail anyone’s January detox. A chocolate pot made with Frangelico (a hazelnut liqueur) is like a blowsy Nutella. In a good way.

Upstairs as you wash your hands in the bathrooms you get a bird’s eye view of the kitchen through industrial reinforced glass windows. Every part of the small work space is visible so you can watch your dinner being cooked in real time if that floats your boat. It’s designed to appeal to all who love the behind-the-scenes viewpoint. It’s also a statement of an honest-to-goodness approach, no frills, just good food.

Dinner for two with three glasses of wine, a bottle of water and a herbal tea came to €103.

San Lorenzo's

South Great George's Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4789383

Music: Rock the night we were there

Facilities: Unisex, wooden and with a quirky kitchen view

Food provenance: Beef is Irish Hereford and there's a Connemara hand-cured beef bresaola

Wheelchair access: Only to the dining area

Purse friendly lunch: Coppinger Row

A weekday lunch often comes with low expectations, but it's always worth aiming a bit higher than a refuelling pitstop. A quick workday lunch became a real treat recently when I went to Coppinger Row. A mushroom and truffle soup was a stupendous bowl of flavour and warmth and I had it with a bowl of green beans instead of fries. They were probably the best €3.50 snack I've had in a while. They were perfectly cooked with just enough butter to take the healthy edge off and a wickedly good mustard mayo for dipping. Liam had a plate of pulled pork and salad which was deeply tasty and for €9 a bit of a steal. They do a €10 lunch special here which combines a dish of the day with dessert. You could spend the same on packet soup, a plastic sandwich and a cellophane-wrapped muffin. But here you can eat great food, leaf through the many cookbooks on the shelves, and take a little taste holiday from the world of January-ness outside. Lunch for two with soft drinks and coffee came to €39.55

Coppinger Row Restaurant, Coppinger Row (beside the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre), Dublin 2, tel: 01-6729884