Paolo Tullio's Review
It may be wishful thinking, but I'm getting the impression lately that more and more places are opening of the cheap and cheerful variety. It's a sector of the restaurant business that has never been particularly well represented in the past - we've had expensive restaurants and cheap ones, like take-aways and burger franchises - but never much in the middle. And yet the middle ground is where you'd expect most restaurants to be, appealing to the majority of diners.
Not every time that we go out to eat are we looking for haute cuisine. Sometimes with friends and family all we want is somewhere where the food's acceptable and the price affordable. The most obvious candidate for this kind of restaurant is one that sells pasta and pizza. These are dishes that cost little to prepare, are tasty when well done and satisfy both children and adults. They are in effect Italian fast food. A pizzeria in Italy performs exactly the same function that a burger franchise does in Ireland, it's where you go for a cheap snack, or where you go with a large family group. Obviously there's a huge price discrepancy. In Italy you pay maybe 5 for a basic pizza, in Ireland you'd be lucky to pay less than 10, but given that, the function remains the same.
This week I went to try a new venture in Greystones called Bochelli. That's one of those names designed to be read in Ireland, not Italy. To an Italian that reads bock kelly' not botchelly', but since the name has nothing to do with the tenor Andrea it doesn't matter a whole lot. I'd arranged to meet my friend Alexis Mitchel there and we both found it easily enough, mainly because on a sunny evening all the outdoor tables were filled with people eating and enjoying the evening sun. It almost looked like a Mediterranean pavement café.
Inside the restaurant is cavernous, going back a long way and seating easily 150 people. But because it was such a nice evening we decided to eat outside and watch the world parade up and down Church Road, working on the assumption that when the sun shines you should make the most of it.
I began by reading the wine list, which is short enough - just over twenty wines - and almost entirely Italian in selection. Most of the listed wines are under 20 or just over, and there are some decent wines to choose from, including a Salice Salentino from Candido and a good selection from Masi. We settled on the Masi white called Masianco, which is a wine I particularly like and it was listed at 24.95.
The menu is exactly what you'd expect to find: some simple starters, eleven pizzas, ten pasta dishes and ten meat and fish dishes. From the starters Alexis chose the minestrone, a traditional vegetable soup that came with home-made bread, while I chose the mussels which were served with a tomato, rosemary and chilli sauce. Both of these starters turned out to be very good - Alexis' soup had the hearty peasant appeal of plenty of vegetables in a tasty soup. The mussels were very good, especially the sauce in which they were served: it took a great deal of will power not to soak up all the remaining sauce with bread.
For main courses Alexis had chosen the tortellini, a small filled pasta, in this case filled with meat and served with a sauce of cream, basil and Parmesan. I'd chosen a pizza. Now when I'm in Italy, being a creature of habit, I invariably choose the capricciosa' which you'll find on the menu of any Italian pizzeria. It wasn't one of the pizzas listed in Bochelli's, but the last option on the menu was a DIY' pizza, where you could choose your topping from a list of ingredients. So by choosing mozzarella, ham, olives and artichokes I came close to a capricciosa', missing only the egg.
The main courses weren't quite up to the high standard of the starters. Alexis' tortellini were more than a little under-cooked. It's of course a cardinal sin to overcook pasta, but undercooking it makes it very hard to eat and digest. The sauce on the tortellini was good and rich, but because they weren't completely cooked Alexis found herself struggling to eat them.
My pizza had a well made base and the toppings worked well. If I had a comment to make it's this: I don't think that artichoke hearts stored in vinegar work very well on a pizza, because the taste of vinegar doesn't go well with mozzarella or ham. It's a small point, but the pizza would have been more balanced without the vinegar taste. Artichoke hearts stored in oil would have worked much better.
Despite these quibbles with the main courses we both enjoyed our meal al fresco'. The service in Bochelli's is very good and put me in mind of Ragazzi' in Dalkey, where good-looking young Italian waiters flirt outrageously with their female customers. We finished up our meal with a couple of espressos and a bill for 70.90 confirmed our impression that Bochelli's is designed to feed you simply without costing a lot.
It's that time of year again for the Rosemount Young Restaurant Manager of the Year competition and as usual I'll be one of judges. It's open to full-time restaurant managers that are under 35 years of age, so if you know of one who you think should be nominated check out the national press for nomination forms or contact www.katebowepr.ie for more information. Singling out people for praise who do their job with skill and charm can only help to keep on improving standards in the hospitality business.