WHEN we think or write about food (or wine for that matter), it is all too easy to focus on flavours and smells. We have other senses too and how a food feels in the mouth has an enormous influence on how much we enjoy it.
Nobody (or nobody I know) likes soggy chips, tough steak, heavy dense bread or rubbery eggs. Give us contrast — crunchy fluffy frites, crusty bread with a soft chewy centre, char-grilled meat where the juices flow when you cut it.
After my meal in Cirillo’s I realised that almost everything we ate had this winning contrast. I hadn’t considered this before but I think texture as much as flavour is the secret to good pizza — a crisp thin base with soft textured cheese, tomato and toppings for contrast — only Philistines leave the crusts in my book.
Cirillo’s operates over two floors with an open kitchen in the basement including a large wood-fired oven. The sight of the burning embers added a comforting glow to what is otherwise a rather dark room — upstairs is more cheery with large windows and comfortable seats.
I let my guest choose the starters and I hesitated slightly when she chose the Calamari with Aioli which had been disappointingly flaccid on my first visit to Cirillo’s when they opened last June (I felt they still had some kinks to work out so decided not to review on that occasion). This time however the Calamari were virtually perfect and aced the texture test — squeaky fresh tender squid in flaky crisp batter. I had to restrain myself from stuffing handfuls into my mouth.
The trick with Arancini is to start with decent risotto before you ball it up and fry it in breadcrumbs so that it looks like baby oranges. Here the rice was perfectly cooked and flavoured with tomato, oregano and mozzarella and most importantly they oozed deliciously once you bit into the crisp shell. Gorgonzola and Basil Oil dip added extra flavours and rounded out and lifted the flavours.
Cirillo’s is about pizza and I know in the interest of research I should have perhaps ordered one of the two pasta dishes or perhaps the risotto but none sounded appealing.
The asparagus and truffle risotto cost just €17 and at that price I’m guessing the truffle was in oil rather than fungus format and you would then have had to listen to me complain about the abomination to good taste that is truffle oil. (Yes I really hate it that much.)
The pizza menu is topped with the phrase ‘Vera Pizza Napolitano’ promising true Neapolitan pizza and includes 14 choices including classics such as margharita, marinara and diavolo.
My guest ordered the ‘Ortolana’ with aubergine, courgette and peppers while I opted for the ‘Carbonara’ — just as with the pasta this was topped with egg, pecorino and guanciale (cured neck or jowl meat), the outlier being mozzarella.
The Ortolana was rather unexciting to my taste but the base was good and my guest was happy. I loved my Carbonara which had that contrast — crisp and doughy base and a rich, creamy and satisfying topping — this has rightly become almost the signature dish of the restaurant.
A small criticism of the pizzas would be that I would have preferred a lighter hand with the toppings as would be more typical in Naples.
Irish people want generosity however so I suspect Cirillo’s might be correct to err in this way from a commercial perspective. As it was these pizzas rather heaved and were impossible to finish (but made an excellent lunch the following day).
From a short but well chosen wine list I ordered Ca’ di Alte Pinot Nero (noir) – excellent value at €27.
This needed to be chilled a little to bring out the freshness but turned out to be a perfect pizza wine with a good contrast of fruit and acidity.
From a classic Italian dessert menu we shared Chocolate Ganache with Caramel Mousse and banana purée — once again the contrasts worked — the rich chocolate, light caramel and sweet banana.
Cirillo’s is a fine addition to Dublin’s ever increasing number of pizza restaurants and is warmly recommended — Viva la Contrasto.
Tel: 01-6766848; www.cirillos.ie