Volpe Nera is painted serious grey outside with small windows so you can’t get a sense of what’s going on indoors. It sits in contrast to neighbouring cafe Fable and Stey which is all plate glass and open vistas.
As restaurants between the canals go all Japanese love hotel, with tables rented by the hour, that madness feels at bay on a Friday in the burbs. It’s a quietness that may make Volpe Nera the last known habitat of the leisurely lunch.
Chef Barry Sun arrived from Etto in the city centre to this small strip of shops. He seems to have found space to breathe. So there are fewer staccato small plates and more lingery options taking us back to starter, main and dessert territory. This makes Volpe Nera feel more bistro than Etto. You may feel your life needs a new bistro in a south Dublin suburb as urgently as it needs another WhatsApp group but bear with me. Volpe Nera is a different class of creature.
The name is Italian for black fox, a hybrid or mashup of the suburbs of Blackrock and Foxrock. The food is Italian-ish, but only in the get-the-best-ingredients, cook-them-lovingly fashion. The fox’s comfortable lair, which used to be a restaurant called La Plancha, is almost as small as Etto (although there are tables upstairs). They’ve decked it out simply with herringbone timber floors and bleached timber walls, the mood board of a very tastefully tailored suit. My Dad deems it “smart but restful”. Chairs are comfortable and upholstered in a cloudy grey and napkins on the shiny varnished tables are thick white linen with a short paper menu tucked inside.
Etto, where Sun was head chef, is a masterclass in casual dining where the casual bit only applies to the diningroom. A seriously rigorous approach is taken to everything that comes out of the kitchen.
And so it is with the truly lovely things here. Like the tiny triangles of blood orange on one of the starters. Blood oranges are a joyous citrus fruit, bursting into the feeble light of late winter days with threads of zingiest sunshine made edible. Here the blood orange has been distilled into a pink liquor used to “cook” generous slices of sea bream along with shards of pickled fennel, all finished with micro sorrel and tiny triangles of orange in a dish that brings winter and spring together so beautifully.
I have the salt-baked celeriac, made less wintery with a light pickling with the celeriac slices cooked to potatoey softness and then curled into three volcanoes around mounds of creamy stracciatella, topped with a lightly pickled mushroom slice (Sun is gentle in his tangy slashes but they work all the better because of that). Hazelnut halves roasted to ramp up their nuttiness provide a crunch to all this softness.
There’s a snow white fillet of cod, taken from the thickest part of the fish with beluga lentils, peppered lightly with lardo and a thick parsley puree to give a grassy finish to this lovely dish.
I have a wedge of slow-cooked short ribs, chocolate brown meat falling into juicy threads under a lid of something that eats like solid gravy, a beefiness reduced to its marrow and then lifted with a fiery grating of horseradish. There’s a wedge of crispy polenta, cooked solid with life-enhancing quantities of butter and finished glassy on the top like a creme brulee. Alongside sits a whole carrot sliced down the middle and seared, almost like it has been inked as an anatomical drawing of the essence of a carrot.
A side of hispi cabbage with mustard mayo and a sprinkling of crisp Alsace bacon (surely alsation bacon for the rhyming alone?) is another skillful marriage of meaty heat and mineral flintiness.
Desserts keep the standard up right to the last spoonful. My pannacotta is malted which adds two things: a subtle vanilla colour to its silky whiteness and a biscuity malty comforting depth to the flavour. Could the pannacotta police please demand that this shall from today be the only iteration of the wobbly milky favourite? The chocolate mousse has a citrus marmalade layer at the bottom for Terry’s Chocolate Orange made better.
We emerge into the day refreshed after the loveliest of lunches, world put nearly to rights and happy. Head to the burbs folks. Good things happen there.
Lunch for two with a glass of wine and two coffees came to €76.50
- Verdict: 9/10 Love this new suburban fox
- Facilities: Nice
- Food provenance: None
- Music: Lovely
- Wheelchair access: 5/5 Room accessible and there is a wheelchair toilet
- Vegetarian options: Limited but sound good