Del-Fino Restaurant, 21 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 1.
Tel: 01-4413208; www.del-fino.ie
Dublin's dining scene seems to be having a bit of a boom, by Christmas we will have had 35 new restaurant openings since summer and I’m told the Christmas dining rush has come early.
One new spot I had hopes for is Del-Fino on Camden St. Head chef Alan O’Reilly is reassuringly experienced — he ran the much loved and late-lamented Alexis in Dun Laoghaire, and the Wildside Café in Cabinteely
I visited Del-Fino with my most gloriously focused food friend, nothing gets by her — let’s call her Sherlock.
The subtly lit room (yes, I mean dark) has button-back bench seats, shiny brickwork, and a parquet floor — so far, so traditional. Not so the menu, which has dishes from at least three continents and is impossible to define.
There are Italian and US Italian dishes, Côte de Boeuf and braised dishes, a dash of Scandi here, a dollop of Labneh and preserved lemon there, kimchi, Japanese Wafu, and devilled eggs.
I found this eclectic (I would say bizarre) mix frustrating and confusing so settled on a grab-all strategy.
The wine list had barely a brand we recognised but my glass of Primitivo was decent enough, Sherlock’s Chianti a little less so.
Crusty French baguette with Italian condiments was first up followed by fermented potato beignets (€4.50) and ‘wafu beef’ (€13.50).
The beignets were crisp and fluffy with a hint of fruity ferment and worked well with a Romesco sauce; the beef was 0.5cm-thick slices of rare meat (cooked sous-vide and flash browned), topped with tasty fermented pimento and lifted Japanese flashes of flavour from the wafu vinaigrette.
At this point our train began to wobble on its rails — we didn’t actually crash off the viaduct into the creek, but boy did we wobble.
‘Calamari with fried Padron peppers, marinara, and aioli’ was actually tender baby squid fried crisp (with a little too much oil clinging on) and some scattered herbs and red chilli.
We asked where the Padron were and after a scurry to the kitchen, were told the red piquillo chilli slices were in fact Padrons (they weren’t).
Crispy pork croquettes (€4.50) were indeed crispy but lacked punch (and seasoning) and came with what we think may have been sauerkraut that added nothing.
At this point in the meal we had bread and four shared starters in front of us and were barely a third through when our pasta dishes arrived.
We had said to our server that dishes could come once cooked but it was clear front of house were either inexperienced or not communicating well with the kitchen as nobody can eat seven starters at once.
A half-portion of homemade gnocchi was serviceable but for me they lacked lightness of touch.
Pappardelle with braised rabbit had a generous amount of rabbit and a light meaty sauce and was a solid enough dish in my view; Sherlock’s view: ‘Why make fresh pappardelle and then overcook it? Why?’
Our slow-braised pork shank, ‘Osso Bucco’, didn’t seem to have anything to do with the Italian shin of veal dish but worse still, it was bland and characterless.
The side dish of herb fries were actually naked skinny chips without even salt and when we queried this, an altogether different potato dish from the menu arrived instead — chunks of tasty, crispy rosemary and garlic potato.
The menu promised gremolata with the pork but I think it must have absconded with the herbs from the chips, the pardons, the aioli, and the marinara.
‘Lemon tart’ turned out to be sponge cake with lemon curd in the middle but was nevertheless light and flavourful.
‘Twix millionaire’ was chocolate-coated ice cream but sadly no actual caramel, just a vague toffee flavour on one half of the ice cream.
Chef came to our table at the end and offered apologies for missing flavours and miscommunication and promised menu changes were due.
There were flashes of excellence but this was a hot mess of a meal.
Del-Fino needs a massive injection of focus at both front and back of house or they won’t survive Christmas.
Dinner for two with two glasses of wine, two snacks, two starters, two half portions of pasta, a shared main and two desserts cost a reasonable €105
Tuesday –Saturday, 5pm-10pm (Lunchtime opening coming soon I’m told).
In a sentence
An ‘eclectic’ menu (‘crazy mixed up’ is another way to put it) with flashes of excellence mixed in with some very ordinary flavours and a lack of focus at front and back of house – hopefully they will get it together soon.