Talavera Radisson SAS, St. Helens, Stillorgan Road, Co. Dublin
I like the Radisson St. Helen's Hotel. It's a grand house that's been sympathetically converted into a hotel. I've never eaten there for a review, but when I heard that the Talavera Restaurant in the St. Helen's had won an award for authenticity from the Academia Italiana di Cucina, I knew it was time for me to try it.
In recent years there has been a move in Italy to try to set standards for restaurants and pizzerias around the world that call themselves 'Italian'. There is an understanding that Italian gastronomy needs to be protected from poor imitation, which can give Italian food a bad name. What the Italian government would like is a universally accepted benchmark that would give the consumer an indication of quality and authenticity - and at the same time would protect the reputation of Italian gastronomy. The Academia Italiana di Cucina (the Academy of Cooking) is trying to do just that.
The Talavera is in St. Helen's basement, so the low ceilings give it an intimate and cosy feel. When I walked in with my friend Gill Hall, the first thing that confronted us was a counter with over twenty different dishes that was the antipasto. Before we investigated it thoroughly we were shown to our table and we settled into reading the menu and wine list. There was good bread on the table and our waiter poured us a little olive oil into a bowl, added a splash of Balsamic vinegar, and invited us to dip our bread into it. Quite properly, there was no butter on the table, but I'm sure that if you wanted it, it would have been provided.
The menu doesn't really have starters, unless you consider pastas and risottos as starters. These all had two prices, either as a starter portion or as a main course, priced roughly €11 and €17 respectively. There were seven pasta dishes and two risottos to choose from, so there's plenty of choice. But both Gill and I were intrigued by the antipasto buffet, which you can have as a starter for €11.50 or as a main course for €16.50. So, plates in hand, we went from dish to dish gradually filling our plates. With over twenty dishes to pick from, that was easy to do. I took tiny portions of a lot of things - roasted aubergines, roasted courgettes, a seafood salad, roasted peppers, big fat capers, prosciutto, salami, leaf salads, mushrooms and sardines.
Back at the table we settled into our choices and they went down very well, I thought the buffet was very well done, and good value too.
For main courses, which are priced around €28, Gill had chosen pan-fried Dover sole and I'd picked the veal medallions with mozzarella and Parmesan. The white Vernaccia di San Gimignano which we had at €28.50 was a good accompaniment. The wine list is quite long, nine pages, and it's divided roughly in half between Italian wines and the rest of the world. There's plenty of wines in the €20-€30 range, as well as some pricier listings, so most tastes are accounted for.
Our waiter very skilfully de-boned the sole at the table and quickly too, so it was still hot when it was presented to Gill. It was perfectly cooked and flavoured simply with lemon, parsley and garlic. My veal was a generous portion and well made, good vegetables and potatoes came separately on flats.
We finished our meal with two excellent sorbets followed by espressos. So there you have it. I liked the Talavera, it was very nearly the restaurant of my dreams and it could very easily be that perfect restaurant.