THERE was surprise (and some consternation) a couple of years ago when what was considered a fun retro Italian restaurant in a former car-park basement won best restaurant at the All-Ireland Restaurant Association Awards. It was no surprise to those of us that had eaten there — Luna deserved the award for atmosphere, impeccable service, and, beyond all of this, the outstanding cooking.
A return visit was needed as there have been some changes since then — but crucially superstar maitre d‘ Declan Maxwell is still in charge and Vish Sumputh has taken over the kitchen. Vish is originally from Mauritiius and was previously sous chef in Chapter One (where Declan once worked, as did Luna’s original chef, Karl Whelan, who is now apple-wood-roasting Skeaghanore Ducks in his excellent Chinese restaurant Hang Dai on Camden St).
We began (as you must) with the wonderful salumi selection (€14) from the gorgeous hand-cranked Ferrari yellow meat slicer which the staff lovingly clean and polish every night (we watched them spend 30 minutes at the task on the night we visited).
The meat selection has changed a little under Vish and is still a delight with a new black truffle-specked Mortadella, Capocollo di Napoli (from the neck), and a Parma ham aged in red grape must. We skipped the lardo toast this time but were still rather indulgent with a creamy Toonsbridge mozzarella and extra grilled sourdough.
My baby fennel starter (€12) was served with soft tangy goat’s curd and given a little punch with caper sprouts and, crucially, some sweetness with poached peaches. All of this would have worked well but a key to the success of the dish was the walnut milk sauce which brought all the elements together. Classically trained chefs like Vish pay proper attention to their sauces — and saucing was key to my 9/10 rating for the food.
A similar sweet-bitter combination came with the bresaola (cured beef) which was served with pear and endive topped with crumbs of smoked cured egg yolk and with an aromatic black truffle dressing.
Ragu Bolognese with agnolotti di Parmigiano (€28) was split in two so we could both try it — intensely rich (and rather glorious) proper Bolognese sauce as you would get in Bologna made with pork shoulder slow-cooked for nine hours in a rich brown chicken stock and a little tomato paste. (In case you didn’t know, the ‘Bolognese’ sauce we make in Ireland is really a southern Italian meat ragu.)
A quick dive into our rabbit main course may help explain why Luna is not just some old-fashioned New York Italian joint as it modestly implies on its website. The dish is simply described as ‘rabbit, carrot, tarragon, girolles, gnocchi’, when in fact the kitchen has deboned a whole rabbit and stuffed the legs with a mousse from the kidneys and liver with added smoked bacon and foie gras.
The blander rabbit saddle is kept for a pressed terrine dish and the tastier legs are rolled in Alsace bacon, roasted and served with a carrot mousse, apricot-scented girolles, and a rich jus from the rabbit with a kick of tarragon, plus a scattering of tiny silk pillow gnocchi.
At just €30 this is Michelin star food at around half the price.
Desserts (€9.50) are new or with a new twist and also include a tiramisu and acquerello (aged carnaroli) rice pudding. I opted for a salted caramel parfait which had a good combination of flavours set off with a rich molasses biscuit and bright smoky cocoa ice cream. My guest’s excellent cassata with ricotta cheese was served with a passionfruit bombe and a creamy almond milk.
A biodynamic saladini pilastri rosso Piceno for €45 added some lively bitter cherry fruit flavours to the meal and worked well with both rabbit and ragu.
The list is a good size with some well-chosen wines and changes seasonally — prices start at around €40.
So if you haven’t visited Luna in a while you really need to make a pilgrimage. The charge that it is expensive is untrue in my view — there is an excellent value pre-theatre menu, and you can get out for under €130 if you are sensible — Luna remains one of the very best restaurants in the country.
A meal for two with a bottle of wine, two cocktails, salumi and mozzarella, two starters, a shared pasta, a shared main course and two desserts cost €153
Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm-11pm.
A gorgeous, welcoming, modern Italian restaurant in a vintage setting with old-school, properly attentive service and confident, meticulously executed (and very tasty) cooking.