I love an Italian restaurant where I can afford lunch but can’t really afford dinner. 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. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a restaurant like that in Dublin. I do remember Nico’s on Dame Street having what was described as a “certain cachet”, but then I suppose, we all moved on from lasagne. Emilio Cirillo was the joint owner before it closed in 2018.
The Cirillo name is still associated with good restaurants. James Cirillo, his nephew, opened Cirillo's on Baggot Street where they serve award winning pizza; and at the end of last year, he rather bravely opened Nannetti's, in the room that never quite cut it for Amuse. I managed to bag a table over the short three week period he was open pre-Christmas, and liked it a lot.
Now, after a stretch of outdoor dining, it is open again indoors, and I am pleased to see that the atmosphere is every bit as buzzy as I remembered.
It has a more casual vibe than Amuse did, with exposed brick, wooden tables, bentwood chairs, banquettes, globe lights with visible filament bulbs, and a smart marble topped bar with a few backlit shelves which acts as a focal point. There’s also a very nice marble counter to the side with a few stools.
Cirillo hasn’t taken the white linen tablecloth route, which seems appropriate as the pricing on the a la carte menu is not at embassy expense account level.
Vincenzo Marrone, the Sicilian manager better known as Vinny, is busy shaking cocktails when we arrive. They are much in demand as there are a few celebrations in the room. A birthday at a table for six, and a honeymoon at the table for two beside us. He charms them all, and us too. "I remember you! You were sitting over there," he exclaims, pointing at a table across the room.
As you’d expect, pasta features on the menu, and so too does risotto, which was noteworthy on my first visit. This time, I opt for scallops with pumpkin puree, €15. There is a danger that the pumpkin could be a bit sweet with the scallops, but the puree is well balanced. A bit of acidity in there, some pickled pumpkin, shavings of fennel, a few micro strands of coriander, and a fresh parsley oil bring plenty of zing to the plump, fried scallops.
The agnolotti ai quattro formaggi, €14, have all the creamy flavour you’d expect from little parcels of pasta filled to the brim with cheesy richness. They’re tossed simply in a butter sauce, with toasted pine nuts and a bit of crispy sage, but I find that the pasta is just a little bit firm at the edges, something I also noticed with the tortellini I had on my first visit.
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.
Again, for the main course, the flavours are kept vivid and fresh. The hake, €27, is very much a bistro dish, sitting on top of a peperonata that has the right level of acidity and sweetness, and crushed baby potatoes do their carb bit. Not earth shattering, but tasty. Our other main is pasta, I know, not what the Italians would do, but I just fancy something light. It’s homemade linguine, €26, tossed in a sauce with soft chunks of squid, sweet clams in their shells, cherry tomatoes that are just about to collapse from the heat that has been applied, olives, and basil puree. A very tasty dish.
Dessert is simple. A pistachio cake with Chantilly cream, €8, and a confited peach with mascarpone Amaretto, and dusted with almond crumble, €8.
This may not be white linen Italian dining, but it is a load of fun. The menu has a range of choices that will appeal to everyone, so it really is a perfect place to come to with a group of friends. Marrone clearly delights in his photographic memory, so if you turn up a second time, you’ll be greeted like a regular.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €136.