Restaurant review: Rustic Italian sensibility and super service make Crudo a real charmer

In the aftermath of a rugby match down the road in the Aviva, Crudo, part of the Dunne & Crescenzi mini-chain, is a happily buzzing sea of green when we arrive for dinner.

Later – having failed to finish our main courses, despite valiant efforts – we’ll note that it’s good that those shirts are stretchy, given the size of the portions.

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Earlier this year, Eileen Dunne handed over the Sandymount branch of D&C to her sons, Ghinlon Wang and Sean Crescenzi, with the idea, I gather, of shaking things up a little. Early reports were of some confusion, in that while the food had changed, the décor had not, but on the night that we arrive the smell of fresh paint lingers in the air and the makeover – principally a shift in palette from dark to bright, along with a rejigging of the layout – is complete. The Ikea-like shelves remain, the walls still lined with as interesting a selection of Italian wines as you’ll find anywhere in the city.

There’s one in particular that catches my eye, but our waiter (Italian, and charming in a good way) steers me towards another that he thinks we will like better. It’s the Abbazia di Novacella 2015, a Pinot Nero from Alto Adige in the South Tyrol. The Abbey, founded in 1142 by the Augustinian Order of Canons Regular, lies in the Isarco river valley and as well as growing grapes is home to a small school of viticulture. The winemaker is Celestino Lucin, a former Italian winemaker of the year; this Blauburgunder is savoury, fresh and a fine match for the dishes that follow, particularly the robust pastas.

A snack of good house-made focaccia comes with whipped ricotta drizzled with a vivid green herb oil, while another of crab and harissa suppli (croquettes by another name, hot and molten within) with a burnt lemon aioli would have benefited from punchier flavours, but is tasty and enjoyable nonetheless.

Monkfish fritti in a beer and yeast batter – one of the small plates on offer – are good, but the jammy, over-sweet apricot and cumin ketchup is a strange accompaniment and one that does nothing for the dish. A Clogherhead crab salad with multi-coloured heirloom tomatoes is the picture of summer loveliness, but I’d prefer the crab to be less homogeneous and have more chunky texture, and I’m wondering why we never see any brown meat in Irish restaurants. Where does it all go?

The lemon and apple broth in a jug that our waiter pours over the salad at the table is nicely tart, but the dish should have come with a spoon so that we could scoop up every last drop.

I’m disappointed, given the name of the restaurant, to see only one ‘crudo’ dish – sea bream, which I’m assuming is farmed because if it were wild the menu would say so.

The main courses – hake, a pork chop, more seabream (cooked this time) – read less interesting than the pastas, so pasta it is. A special of linguine with clams, mussels and bottarga which a friend at another table has recommended is our favourite, all herbs and flavour and fried breadcrumbs – pangrattato – for texture, but the white ragù of rabbit with pancetta, peas and sage pangrattato, with delicate fried whole leaves of sage that I could eat all night long, comes a close second. The least interesting is the linguine with pink prawns, nduja, garlic butter and mint, which is curiously bland.

We finish with – what else? We are in Italy after all – a tiramisu between three that does what all good tiramisus should, which is to leave you reeling and vowing never again.

Crudo is the neighbourhood Italian that everyone would like to have within walking distance of home, serving food that’s interesting enough to make it worthwhile to leave the comfort of the kitchen rather than regret paying for something that you could easily make yourself. We liked the rustic sensibility and excellent service. The bill for three, with a large bottle of sparkling water and a soft drink, came to €162 before service.

ON A BUDGET

At lunchtime, soup and a sandwich – sorry, panino – of taleggio and caramelised onion with rocket on grilled sourdough costs €10.

ON A BLOW-OUT

Snacks, starters, mains, sides and dessert for two could cost €120 – before drinks.

THE HIGH POINT

Crudo is a restaurant with buckets of charm.

THE LOW POINT

The apricot and cumin ketchup with the monkfish fritti struck a bum note.

THE RATING

8/10 food

9/10 ambience

8/10 value

25/30

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