La Cucina opened in April and in recent weeks it has added Giorgio Casari as maitre d’ — former owner of the Unicorn on Merrion Row.
THE restaurant business is above all a people business.
To thrive you need efficient and charming staff at front of house, but of course the first priority must always be the food.
Farrier and Draper is yet another posh concept bar/restaurant by the Mercantile Group which is behind Café en Seine, Pichet, Soder + Ko, Whelans, and many other successful bars and restaurants in Dublin.
The fact that you probably didn’t know these were connected is to their credit, as is the fact that each seems to have a personality of its own.
This new venture is in the old basement kitchens of the Powerscourt Townhouse — this group doesn’t do bad locations. The pub opened in April and in recent weeks it added La Cucina restaurant with Giorgio Casari as maitre d’.
Casari is best known as the former owner of the Unicorn on Merrion Row — a favourite haunt of politicians and socialites during the boom years.
The room is rather opulently decorated and as you would expect these days has low lighting and a creative cocktail menu plus a promise of ‘old school’ Italian food. So far so good.
Our wine list was the first minor setback due to a rather limited selection of value wines (and none of interest) leading us to choose Ducale Salice Salentino at €35.
This Puglian wine region has often appeared in this newspaper’s wine column and it rarely disappoints, but we both found this rather muted and insubstantial, especially for the price.
Our four ‘small plate’ starters were also a mixed bag — the best was the melanzane alla parmigiana — sweet baked aubergines and lots of cheese — as good I suspect as Carmella Soprano would have made.
The ‘house secret’ polpette meatballs could have done with a lighter sauce — the meatballs themselves were good.
Roast potatoes with wild herbs had no visible wild herbs that I could see and were sent back as they were mostly undercooked.
Our waitress was genuinely upset and insisted on bringing us a second batch which were fully cooked but lacked any crisp edges — surely the point of oven- roasted potatoes.
The fault was partly the fact that the skins were left on, but also due to the rather soapy variety of potatoes used.
The restaurant is proud of its wood- burning oven and the ultimate test had to be pizza.
Sadly my pizza was around 6in in diameter and 2in high rather than the traditional Neapolitan thin base, and rather inevitably it was only partially cooked with a substantial quantity of raw dough in the centre.
Our waitress immediately offered to bring a thinner version but this suffered from the same problem (though to a lesser extent).
The real pity of this was that the topping was excellent, sweet buffalo mozzarella and good quality San Danielle prosciutto.
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina suffered from a rather weak tomato sauce and we failed to find any smoked mozzarella as the menu had promised but a query about the provenance of the gnocchi brought the chef to our table clutching a handful he had made earlier.
Just like our waitress he was utterly charming and clearly upset we had not liked his food but there was little we could say to him so we smiled a lot.
More dishes arrived such as pappardelle with a rich sauce of pulled pork and nduja (Calabrian spicy salami) but by now we had rather lost our appetites.
A further charm offensive from the chef and waitress convinced us to try desserts and of these my least favourite was the rather densely textured and bluntly flavoured Bavarese strawberry mousse and although the tiramisu had a good coffee kick, it had rather too much cream for my taste.
I did however, like the semifreddo with blood-orange curd and white chocolate yoghurt which managed to combine interesting textures with a pleasing combination of sweet, bitter and mildly sour flavours.
So as I said, restaurants are about people and some of the nicest restaurant people I’ve met this year were in La Cucina that night so I rather hated writing this review.
For what it is worth I would suggest a lighter touch for sauces, thin bases for the pizzas and some general recipe tweaking all round. I honestly wish them well.
Dinner for two with four small plates, two mains and two desserts cost us €90.50.
We were not charged for our pizza, the roast potatoes or any of the dishes sent in compensation for the ones we returned.
Open daily – 12pm-10pm (later at weekends)
In a sentence: Enthusiastic and charming staff, decent décor but work is needed on the food.
La Cucina at Farrier and Draper, Powerscourt Townhouse, South William Street, Dublin 2;
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