WE ARE on Easter holidays and have fetched up in Kilkenny and, though this terrific town offers splendid dining choices, we only have eyes for Ristorante Rinuccini, 30 years old this year yet overly long on my radar without so much as a shot across the bows.
First impressions count for an awful lot, and Rinuccini’s gives great first impression. It’s downstairs in a cellar and, when it comes to professional carousing, it’s very hard to beat the sub- terranean intimacy of a cellar, ideally with an added spritz of the illicit, real or imagined.
Low lighting, dark wood panelling, repro- old masters and tables dressed to the nines makes for a very romantic, intriguing space. Even the progeny let out a low whistle, all the more so when a flotilla of tuxedoed waiters set sail our way.
No 2 Son is genuinely out of sorts, perusing the menu like a maiden aunt after a fit of the vapours, settling on just two starters and no mention of steak.
His calamari e zucchini fritti are very more-ish battered fritters of fresh squid rings and courgettes, a silky lemon and anchovy aioli on the side but he’s not too weak to fight us off as we come scavenging for scrumptious seconds.
Meatballs in his polpettine con spaghettini are plump, proud and most palatable in tomato, garlic and basil sauce. La Daughter, herself, part pasta, is in her element sucking up fresh tagliatelle with a creamy ragu.
We have done much eating over the past few days so I consider settling for just a main course until ravioli gorgonzola e noci, ‘handmade by chef Antonio’, take to humming their siren’s song from the menu, with a rollicking ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ thrown in to boot. They are mighty fine, fresh al dente pasta, housing ricotta and fresh spinach, baptised with a gorgonzola, cream and white wine sauce and a sprinkling of crushed toasted walnuts. As it happens, they are so fine, I taste just two; I’d have gladly burst my belt buckle for the entire plateful.
Having daintily eschewed a starter and instead eaten half of mine, Current Wife, dives into a main course of spaghettini con gamberoni, pasta tossed in a pan along with succulent Kilmore Quay prawns, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, tomato, basil and chilli, a simple treatment of good produce resulting in an elemental splendour.
Memories of one magical autumnal trip to the Tuscan hills prod me in the direction of anatra al profumo d’arancia, silver hill Irish duckling oven-baked for an eternity until skin is deep golden-brown ‘crackling’ encasing rich, tender meat. Orange juice and aurum liquor sauce is overly thin and sharp for my liking but the duck is moist enough, also coping with crispy roast spuds and vegetable gratin alongside.
Rinuccini’s boast a serious cellar of over 12,000 bottles. A random shuffle through the list has me drooling like a starving dog at a butcher’s window. After romping through fields of fantasy at the upper end, I slide back down to the real world and plump for one of the Super Tuscans, Gavioli Sergavio 2013, sublimely structured, with plummy black fruit, spice and leather notes all resolving in an elegant clean finish. Its marriage with my duck, is truly made in heaven.
We finish with scoops of ice cream for the progeny — further heroics from No 2 Son — and a tiramisu classico for CW. It is one of our ongoing collective missions, to track down the definitive tiramisu, and this is quite the contender, sponge-laced with rum and espresso, sweet creamy zabaglione and crowned with lovely bitter notes of cocoa and dark chocolate. I have torta al cioccolato con caramello salato, a very decent salted caramel and chocolate tart with crisp base, rich chocolate leavened by in-house honey and biscuit ice-cream, but I have to call in a coalition of the only-too-damned-willing to finish the thing, my belly having run up the white flag some time ago.
Rinuccini’s may not be not part of any new vanguard of Italian cuisine but that’s perfectly fine. Rather, it delivers superbly a roster of traditional dishes, a strong hand further emboldened by the use of excellent Irish ingredients, ensuring this old stager operates with the vibrancy of eternal youth — 30 years old but forever young.
Monday to Saturday, 5pm-10pm; Sunday, 5pm-9pm
: 056 776 1575