Paolo Tullio's Review
In July 1953 a group of men, headed by Orio Vergani, gathered in the Hotel Diana in Milan and founded the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, or the Italian Academy of Cookery. They shared a belief that gastronomic culture and the civilisation of the table are part of a country's culture, a reflection of that society's values. More than fifty years later the Accademia is still thriving, its two main elements being a force for education and also a repository of skills and recipes
The Accademia has been instrumental in cataloguing and preserving regional dishes throughout Italy and is an active force in defending the culinary traditions of the regions. We have no equivalent organisation in Ireland, but then it's also true that until recently there really wasn't a gastronomic tradition to defend.
Last week I went to the Italian Ambassador's residence in Lucan to meet Professor Giuseppe dell'Osso, the current president of the Accademia. He explained that a driving force behind the Accademia's philosophy is the nurture of conviviality, which he sees as an expression of hospitality, a means of intelligent communication, and a way of bringing about harmony among men over the sharing of a meal. This is no new concept - Christians will recall that Jesus exhorted his followers to remember him and his teachings while sharing a meal.
One of the projects in Italy right now is an attempt to rate Italian restaurants abroad on the basis of their authenticity. Even a brief look through our Golden Pages will show you how many of Ireland's restaurants are classified as Italian'. Often they turn out to be restaurants run by every nationality except Italian, with dishes that have Italian names but no real Italian content. In one sense of the word they're Italian' because they offer pasta and pizza, but often what they offer bears no relation to what you'd be served in a restaurant in Italy. Perhaps a rating as to their authenticity would be no bad thing.
It used to make me cross, but I'm softening with age. If you like pizza with pineapple on top you should be able to have it - just don't call it Italian. I'm beginning to think I should have a separate category for these restaurants, a category where I don't compare them to their equivalents in Italy, but simply rate them on the quality of the food that they serve. In other words I'll think of them as Italian style' restaurants, where you mustn't expect authentic Italian food, just decent food with an Italian name.
This week I went to lunch in Trentuno' in Cabinteely with my friend Michael Lowsely. Trentuno' means thirty-one in Italian and indeed, out of the four restaurants that carry this name, the first was in 31 Wicklow Street. You'll find it at the crossroads opposite The Horse and Hounds pub and it's quite big; there's a long room downstairs with an open kitchen along the right hand side and there's an upstairs dining room as well. Michael had eaten here a few times already and preferred the upstairs room, so that's where we ate.
Now Trentuno fits pretty well into the category of Italian style' restaurant. The menu lists eight starters which include a Caesar salad, a tian of crabmeat and Boston shrimp, a warm goats' cheese salad and crunchy chicken strips. These are not dishes that you'd find in a restaurant in Italy. There are nine pizzas on offer and amongst them you'll find a smoked duck and raspberry pizza, a smoked salmon and asparagus pizza and a goats' cheese and Spanish chorizo pizza. You see a pattern emerging? Pasta dishes list a Mastroberardino and a San Gimignano, names that in Italy you'll only find on bottles of wine. On the specialities' page you'll find hot n' spicy prawns', surf n' turf and an entrecôte au poivre, which you won't find in the Accademia's repertoire either.
The wine list is very basic, although we were told it's about to be upgraded. For the moment though it's somewhat sparse, but it does have a few decent wines on it: a Masianco white at 28, Louis Roederer Cristal 2000 at 250, (how many bottles of that do they sell?) and also from Masi the Campofiorin at 32. Michael however was determined on the Cloudy Bay 2005 so we had that, which added 50 to the bill.
Michael knew exactly what he wanted as he'd eaten here before, ordering crunchy chicken strips to start and the hot and spicy prawns for his main course. I decided to try some Italian dishes, so I chose the Caprese salad to start and the Amatriciana pasta to follow. I have to admit that Michael's choices were good, both courses were well made and nicely flavoured. Mine weren't quite as successful, the Caprese salad was indeed made with a good buffalo mozzarella, but it was a little old and so had become very soft. Still, it was good and I ate it. My pasta, the Amatriciana, is a classic from the town of Amatrice, just outside Rome. The recipe does call for onions, but there was so much onion in the sauce that it was unbalanced, the onions overpowering the tomato and the lardons.
We finished up with a decent apple crumble between us, not a classic Italian dish, but rather well done none the less. On balance then, the best dishes that we'd tasted were the non-Italian ones. There's no doubt that this type of menu is successful because Trentuno has four outlets, but it is Italian fare adapted to the Irish palate - an example would be the pasta carbonara, which lists cream in its ingredients as well as garlic. That's not how you'd get it in Italy, even if it does makes a decent dish. Maybe from now on I'll think of restaurants like this as Italirish'. Our bill, including the wine, water and coffees came to 120.15 without service.