Restaurant review: Well-bread city dining at Etto in Dublin

“WHO’S getting the bread?” I once sat in the kitchen of a house in the French Mediterranean city of Montpellier and heard this question asked four times in the space of an hour by different members of the same family.
Restaurant review: Well-bread city dining at Etto in Dublin

It was mid-morning on a warm Saturday in late autumn and I was sitting at the kitchen table munching bitter-sweet green olives as the lady of the house made mayonnaise, using a wooden spoon and her cousin’s olive oil.

She answered the bread question patiently each time — “worry not, Polig is getting bread after his visit to the barbers!”

This serene tableau gave me an insight into how our Latin cousins think about food.

Nobody asked what was for lunch (it was a simple roast leg of lamb with butterbeans) — it was more important that fresh bread was purchased from the correct bakery.

Sitting in the Italian/Mediterranean- themed Etto on Merrion Row a couple of weeks ago during the stormy weather, I was reminded of that French scene as I munched on Sicilian Nocellara del Belice olives and guzzled Rossa Crowe’s Le Levain bread.

Le Levain bread is available in Temple Bar Market on Saturdays and is the bread of choice in many of my favourite Dublin restaurants (once I become king they shall all be forced to have a loaf handy in case I visit).

Nocellara olives have been called the best in the world but I confess this was my first time tasting them.

Yes they were excellent (and at around 25 cents each they would want to be) — a pristine luminescent green colour, creamy and sweet at first, with a little bitter kick on the finish.

I’m not sure they are the best I’ve tasted (context is everything) but they are probably the best I’ve tasted recently.

Etto opened in 2013 with Barry Fitzgerald at the helm and has been wowing critics and the public ever since.

Fitzgerald now has his own restaurant, Bastible, which opened in November and is already booked out until mid-January (yes, I admit it, I tried to get a table for this week’s review but I failed).

Etto was never only about Fitzgerald’s cooking, however.

Sourcing, atmosphere and attitude were always just as important and the wine list is one of the best in the city, with hardly a dud wine on the list.

On the night we visited they were temporarily out of their Austrian Blaufrankisch, but the suggested replacement was actually better.

Maretti Langhe Rosso at €39, a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera, came at the correct temperature and wowed us with its fragrance, fleshiness, and finesse.

We began with some hake and leek croquettes, which were beautifully light and fluffy, plus some substantial stodgy (in a good way) malfatti gnocci with chanterelles and sage butter.

For mains the cod with cauliflower, grapes and smoked guanciale was the star but my mussels with nduja (spicy Calabrian sausage paste) and pungent fresh sweetcorn was also memorable.

I queried the sweetcorn source and, sure enough, it is the same north Dublin producer that delivers daily to Luna and others.

For dessert my peanut butter semifreddo with apple and glazed Italian-style soft meringue disappeared in mere moments.

The Fourme d’Ambert cheese could have been a little creamier perhaps, but otherwise this was a supremely satisfying meal.

It is still a little strange to me that it took a restaurant on Merrion Row in Dublin’s rather dull business district to bring me back to a warm day in a kitchen in Montpellier.

If you don’t have anyone to visit in the South of France, or in Italy or Greece, a visit to Etto on a winter’s evening probably won’t be a substitute but it is recommended.

The Tab

Dinner for two with two with one bottle of wine, two (complimentary) nibbles, two starters, two mains, one cheese and one dessert — €116.40 (excluding tip).

How To

Monday to Friday, 12pm-10pm; Saturday, 12.30pm-10pm

The Verdict

Food – 7/10

Service – 8/10

Drink – 8/10

Ambience – 7/10

Value – 8/10

In a Sentence: A mix of creative and traditional Italian/Mediterranean food served in a small but atmospheric space — the wine list is long and while the food menu is short it is all rather perfectly formed.

Etto, 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2        

01-678 8872; www.etto.ie    

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