Da Mirco Osteria carries a list of stylish Italian aperitivi — vermouth, prosecco, Campari, aperol — the class of libation that presumes your shiny Vespa is still cooling at the kerbside but we are horny-handed Gaels of infinitely more primal inclinations and today's pre-prandial guzzle turns out to be fine stout from The Bridge Bar, two doors down.
An old comrade passing, finds us supping at an al fresco table on the busy city centre street. “Aren’t ye sitting pretty,” says he with some envy. And we are: 7pm on a clement autumnal midweek evening and not a child in the house washed but, for once, that someone else’s business; demob giddiness is afoot as we take our seats in the restaurant for this impromptu ‘boys night out’.
Fourteen years ago, MircoFondrini, a callow 19-year-old fresh out of catering college, came to Cork, from Valtellina, in northern Italy. He took a front-of-house job in the Farmgate Café, in Cork’s English Market, becoming such an integral part of the Farmgate experience, the late AA Gill, reviewing, singled him out for special mention. This year, he finally flew his Cork ‘nest’ to open a traditional Italian osteria, offering home-style cooking and good wines.
He has hardly touched the tight yet bright space, formerly home to Star Anise, other than adding a few perfunctory potted plants but it is a moot point for his warm, welcoming personality, the embodiment of hospitality, does more for a room than any designer's swatch book.
We begin with focaccia e olive, mixed olives and pillow-soft focaccia, resonating with rosemary. Bruschetta is a self-assembly job, from good grilled bread, diced tomatoes, basil and green olive tapenade.
Chanson’s ragu’ bianco, served with tagliatelle, is tomato-less ‘white’ ragu pinging with nutmeg notes, even if he plumps for a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to moisten deliberately ‘asciutta’ (dry) ragu.
No 1 son’s lasagna da mirco is porcini e salsiccia, porcini (cep) mushrooms and Italian sausage, humming with sweet fennel, layered in sheets of fresh pasta, golden brown, more-ishly chewy on top. We circulate dishes for communal tasting and the miserable portion that eventually reaches me speaks volumes — a truly delicious mouthful.
I order two starters: delightfully al dente ravioloni, older siblings to ravioli, in a purée of butternut squash, sage, walnuts and oozing rich creamy gorgonzola. Patate e baccalá alternates layers of grated potato and salted cod mousse, baked in the oven; simple yet sumptuous, it is my favourite dish of the evening.
Gambler has rotolo di pollo, breast of chicken, rolled in Parma ham, stuffed with sundried tomato pesto and fontina cheese. Served with garlic and rosemary potatoes and a sweet-soft mélange ofoil-drenched, oven-roasted veg, it is a decent autumnal comforter.
We order tiramisu because it is on the menu and therefore must be ordered. To some, it may be a hackneyed trope of Italian cuisine but it remains a fundamental arbiter of in-house standards; this wholesome, fresh alcohol-free version passes with flying colours.
A nutty, biscuity salame dicioccolato exudes dense, bitter cocoa notes cocoa, making for a rather more ‘grown-up’ experience but the real adult ‘dessert’ is a tagliere di formaggi Lombardi, regional cheeses from Lombardy, including spicy bitto; comté-esque capra val bregaglia, further sharpened by citric goat’s milk; and sweet, creamy tallegio.
The wine list is still very much a work in progress but for now I most enjoy a crisp and fruity slightly chilled pinot nero (Cabert 2015) from our evening’s selection.
Infinite is the list of culinary crimes committed in faux ‘Italian’ restaurants around the world; the entirely authentic, really quiteexcellent Da Mirco, on the other hand, constitutes some serious reparation and we four arebesotted with our new home from home.
Should Fondrini choose to push beyond this verbatim delivery of dishes from one of the great global cuisines, opening the door to local, seasonal Irish influences andingredients — farmed, imported sea bass as the only fish option seems wrongheaded when an abundance of fabulous Irish seafood is so readily to hand — then Da Mirco could become a genuine original, another Leeside institution in a city fast regaining its epicurean swagger.
“I’m thinking of adding Irish craft beer to the drinks list,” confides Fondrini as we pay up and leave.
When that happens, Da Mirco, will be nigh on perfect.