Italy is a complicated diverse place as you probably know by now. Let’s take their wine — there are 377 indigenous grape varieties used to make commercial wine in 329 designated DOC regions — France has a mere 204 grapes followed by Spain with 84.
We think we know Italian food but it is easy to forget how fiercely regional it can be from the Pani ca’ Musa spleen sandwiches of Palermo to the Buristo blood pudding of Siena.
There is fierce pride in the local and this applies as much to food as football. A student that stayed with us a little while ago produced some spicy dried sausage one day and I asked if it had come from Italy — she replied with considerable indignance: ‘No! From Calabria.’
Speaking of Calabria, Stoneybatter has another excellent place to eat in the form of Grano. Grano’s owner Roberto Mungo is from Amaroni in Calabria as is his chef, and better still Roberto’s Mama is also visiting Dublin at the moment overseeing the pasta making.
Mama had the night off the evening we visited but if you look online you will find clips of her dextrously fingering off orecchiette and rolling thin sheets of pasta around a piece of dried grass to make fileja.
To be fair to Grano their menu also includes touches from other regions including Puglia and Basilicata and their wine list is fully eclectic covering most corners of Italy including Franciacorta fizz, Langhe Nebbiolo, Tuscan and Sicilian wines and a skin-contact orange wine from Emilia-Romagna.
We began with Olives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes drizzled with organic Bova olive oil also from Amaroni — both were tasty with the olives particularly intense and flavour-packed thanks to spending some time drying in a cooling bread oven according to Roberto.
Next came some delicious Black Pig Lardo melting on Sourdough Toast (€5.50), sweet succulent Polpette all Ndujia (€6.50) meatballs and Frisella di Farro, a traditional spelt bread from Puglia topped with tomato.
The latter was probably our favourite flavour of the night and a real discovery for me — slices of dense, crunchy spelt bread with a light fluffy interior topped with cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil. Such a simple dish of tomatoes on crunchy bread has no right to taste this good.
For my pasta course I opted for Filejio al Pommodoro (€15.50), textured rolled strips of pasta mixed through with a rich tomato sauce. Filejio is made with just flour and water so really allowed the tomato reduction to sing, simple but rather glorious.
My guest’s Struncatura (with cockles, mussels and bergamot) was a traditional mixed grain pasta which Roberto explained was traditionally a pasta of the poor as it is made from sweepings at the mill and might include bran, wheat, buckwheat, etc.
Once again the texture was wonderful and my guest also liked his light fresh shellfish sauce. From the quick taste I stole I think I would have preferred a denser sauce to cope with the robust pasta — a friend who visited the same night as us raved about her Stuncatura with Swordfish which was that evening’s special and was probably the better option.
We skipped a Secondi course as by now we were full to bursting but both sounded excellent — Salt Cod with olives, chilli and sweet peppers or Pork Neck with smoked hand-rolled pancetta, caciocavallo cheese and turnip tops.
Desserts cost from €6 to €7 and of course included a Tiramisu, plus a Panna Cotta, a fig and walnut cake, and a cheese selection.
The Tiramisu was just about perfect with rich coffee flavours but also a lightness of touch and I also enjoyed my ‘Deconstructed Cannolo Siciliano’ — broken pieces of cannoli shell with creamy, lightly sweetened ricotta scattered with grated chocolate and pistachio nuts.
Our glasses of Veneto Corvina (€6) and Marche Rosso Piceno (€7.50) were solidly fruity and suited the food — a return visit is needed to see how some of the more interesting wines on the list work with the food.
Grano is a gem of a spot and warmly recommended not just for the quality of the food but the generosity of the welcome, lucky Stoneybatter.