Tom Doorley is treated to some enormous sandwiches in a tiny cafe
Now that the dust has finally settled on the recent 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland issue of this magazine (July 2nd), I can draw some lessons from the experience. I hope that by now I have thanked all those who wrote with words of encouragement, suggestions, corrections and even downright complaints.
In relation to letters to the editor which have been published over the past few weeks, I would just say two things. First, many of the restaurants mentioned by correspondents as being worthy of inclusion were considered and then dismissed. Second, I seem to have missed some gems in Donegal; it is a county that I will be examining in greater detail and I'm grateful for the suggestions, even if some were made with a side-helping of bile.
What about the FAQs, as they say on websites? Well, to take the single most Frequently Asked Question: why was Thornton's not included? Well, Thornton's is one of our great restaurants, but my list was of places where I would really like to eat and I find Thornton's a bit over-formal for comfort. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the place, indeed the team is first rate, but I'm happier in less grand establishments.
Needless-to-say, no sooner had I put the guide to bed but it turns out that the country is creaking and groaning with excellent places to eat. I have, once again, a reader to thank for pointing me in the direction of Toffoli, a small Italian sandwich bar next to Dublin Castle that would otherwise have eluded me.
And when I say small, I mean tiny. There are, at the last count, four small tables and when they are all occupied - with a total of eight customers - it gets a bit crowded. The owner, Elaine McArdle, will not thank me for featuring Toffoli here. "We have enough customers," she told me. "We could barely cope with more."
Chef Carlo Eremita, whose grandfather, it seems, was the Toffoli of the name, produces wonderful salads and makes flatbreads which are then filled to overflowing with glorious ingredients. There is a small but lovely selection of wine (you pay the retail price plus a fiver corkage), exceptional coffee and - I'm told - the best tiramisu in Dublin.
And how about this for value? A large bottle of mineral water for €2.50, a cappuccino for €1.50, a generous glass of Sangiovese for €3.50?
Our homemade "foccacie" (much more like a big pitta than one might expect) was gargantuan and was stuffed - I use the word advisedly - with fresh goats' cheese, sweet roasted red peppers and a small forest of crunchy, peppery rocket leaves. It was enough to set me up for the day.
We had one of these each (one between two would have been fine) and shared an insalatona of lettuce, radicchio, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, artichoke hearts and olives, and quite possibly a lot more besides.
In the absence of tiramisu (incredibly it hadn't been selling well, so it wasn't made on the day of our visit) we contented ourselves with some of Elaine's utterly delicious sweet goats' cheese bakes and electrifying coffee. With a large mineral water, a bottle of very pleasant red and more food than we could safely manage, the bill came to €53.90. In fact, you could have an ample meal consisting of a salad, a glass of Sangiovese and an espresso and have more than €1 change out of a tenner.
Toffoli, 34 Castle Street, Dublin 2, 01-6334022
Much of the wine at Toffoli is from Collavini, the high-quality producer in the Veneto. Our Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, medium-bodied and juicy, was €13.20 plus €5 for corkage. Collio Pinot Grigio is a snip at €12, while the lovely sparkling Ribolla Gialla Collavini works out at just €30 including corkage. The very serious and almost Burgundian Cucanea Chardonnay is €20.10, while Bodegas Lan's delicious and elegant Rioja Crianza is a mere €12. There are some interesting offerings from Argentina and Chile, too.