Leslie Williams visits Caffe Amore in Dublin
I don’t know how I missed it. Caffe Amore by Luli Montana opened in late 2015 on South Great Georges St, right in the heart of Dublin’s busiest restaurant district, yet I only noticed it in January 2018. I could offer the excuse that the street frontage is tiny and that it looks more like a coffee shop than a restaurant that extends over three floors, but these are poor excuses — I must have passed their door over 500 times.
There is some consolation in the fact that I may not be alone, I have asked two other Dublin-based reviewers and they had never noticed it either, and I think this may be its first review in a national newspaper.
Now I realise that Italian food is ubiquitous and that Dublin has over 100 Italian restaurants serving similar food, but Caffe Amore (CA) is different — think of it as a rather precious gemstone nestled among a mass of cubic zirconia.
The restaurant is long and narrow with an old-fashioned Italian feel as you might expect to find in Naples — the atmosphere is relaxed but also quirky and hip — wine racks line the walls and battered old Moka pots hang from the ceiling but obscure dance music plays in the background. The kitchen is tiny but makes its own bread, focaccia and pizza and the menu is deceptively straightforward with a selection of cheese and meat boards (Tagliere), Bruschetta, Burrata with grilled and roasted vegetables. There are classics like Parmigiana Melanzane and of course a pizza menu plus a selection of I Panuozzi — ‘stuffed rolled pizza dough imported from Naples’ — owner Luli Montana’s home town.
Besides pizza, the Caprese Salad must be the most famous and comforting dish from Italy’s south — in CA it was like a blast of warm Neapolitan sun on a wintry January evening. Creamy sweet mozzarella balls sat simply on thinly sliced good quality tomatoes dressed with basil leaves and peppery olive oil plus some sourdough bread to mop up the juices. Similarly rich, full-flavoured burrata was served with focaccia, rocket and slow roasted tomatoes and some of the best Mortadella I’ve tasted outside Bologna. These starters were not inexpensive at €9.50 and €13.50 but the wonderful quality of the ingredients made them a bargain.
Our two mains came from the day’s specials — my guest had rich meaty Fennel Sausages (from Naples of course) served with Crushed Potatoes and Turnip Tops (€16) — Italian ‘bangers and mash’ if you will.
My Pizza la Grigliata (€16.50) meanwhile was a thick edged square pizza almost over-filled with grilled courgettes, roasted peppers, basil and pistacchio pesto, ricotta, scamorza and mozzarella. Yes I hear what you are saying — pizza should be about the base not the toppings — but here the perfectly cooked inch-thick crust holding in the veg and cheese was one pleasure, the rich cheese and roast veg on a thin base was a separate but equal one — the flavours bounced off each other beautifully.
There was just one dessert option left on the evening we visited but a well-executed traditional Tiramisu fitted perfectly with what had gone before and was followed by a couple of shots of Neapolitan digestivo — Elisir San Marzano, a delicious bitter-sweet herbal liqueur tasting of tar, coffee and wild herbs.
The wine list is short and has some decent house Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano plus of course Barolo, Amarone etc and some good southern Italian wines such as Aglianico Cupersito from Casebianche, and some better whites including Pecorino, Greco di Tufo and Falanghina.
I enjoyed my meal so much I went back for lunch the following day. For a paltry €11.50, I had some excellent bruschetta piled high with fine quality fresh tomato, olive oil and herbs along with a plate of creamy Gnocchi Sorrentina — gnocchi smothered in a rich tomato sauce with scamorza and Grand Padano cheese — plus a decent glass of Montepulciano. Unlike the pizza, focaccia and breads the gnocchi and pasta are not made in-house but from what I tasted they are sourcing carefully.
Caffe Amore is serving delicious heart and soul-warming Italian comfort food and I expect to visit again often.
Dinner for two including two starters, two mains, a shared dessert, a bottle of Nero d’Avola, a San Pellegrino and two digestivo cost €110.50. A two course lunch plus a glass of wine cost €11.50
How To: Open every day from 7.30am to 10.30pm
In a sentence: A great value all-day café-restaurant serving proper Italian comfort food with charm and not a little style.
Caffe Amore, 59 South Great Georges Street, Dublin 2. Tel: 01-4750505. www.caffeamore.ie