Dante's Italian Restaurant,
Paolo Tullio's Review
Germany and elsewhere with his new album. But Chris de Burgh was back in Dublin this It's been a while since I've seen the brother-in-law, he's been busy touring in week, so I took the opportunity to have dinner with him and catch up on the news since Christmas. I thought we'd meet in Dundrum, handy to both of us.
Now call me naïve, but I thought that a shopping centre that describes itself as the biggest, or one of the biggest in Europe, might be well supplied with restaurants. I know it has Harvey Nicks, and I've reviewed that, but surely it must have a raft of others, I thought. Actually, as I stood reading a list in the main mall of the restaurants it contains, the list seemed to made up entirely of fast-food outlets. Maybe I'm missing something, maybe fast-food is all shoppers require, but I did find it surprising. Still there was one that called itself a restaurant, Dante's Italian Restaurant on the second floor. I called Chris and we arranged to meet there.
When I got to the appointed place and time, I found two things - Chris, who was already there waiting, and a restaurant that looked like it was part of TGI Friday, which it turns out, it was. I can't say that that discovery filled me with joy, but what the hell, I thought, we're here so we might as well eat.
Inside Dante's we found nothing of the Inferno, just a simply laid out dining room with plain dark marble-topped tables. We were shown to a table for two, but rather wilfully moved to table for four to have some extra room. We looked at a menu and I sighed. Dante's is about as Italian as a wet afternoon in Connemara. Yes, there are things with Italian names on the menu - not all properly spelled - and there's the usual offering of bruschetta and crostini, pastas and pizzas, but even if the place is named after Italy's most famous poet, this really doesn't constitute an Italian restaurant. I've been shaking my metaphorical fist at the heavens forever about this phenomenon and have now realised the futility of my railing. Dublin is full of places like this and the only realistic option is to take them as they come and see what they produce.
So I let Chris choose first and he chose the salad with buffalo mozzarella to begin and spaghetti carbonara for his mains. I had the prawns to start and ordered a pizza Americana' - surely an oxymoron? - for my main course. With both of us driving, a bottle of wine was out of the question, so instead we opted for a glass each of white and then a glass each of red. There was a very basic wine list to choose from, so we probably did the smart thing there.
The starters arrived and Chris's mozzarella salad looked rather good. There was indeed buffalo mozzarella in it, but it was elderly, as it always is by default here. Mozzarella is a cheese that's at its best after it's been made, preferably within hours. The next day it's maybe at 90%, the next only 60% and after that it starts to change consistency, becoming chalky and granular. Unless you meet a mozzarella flight at the airport, you'll get it like Chris did, chalky. In fairness I don't blame Dante's for that, we're just a long way from the Campania. My prawns however were superb. It was a simple dish, the prawns served with butter and lime juice, but it was simply delicious. All in all not a bad start. I had a few dough balls with my prawns which were good for soaking up the butter, so Chris asked for a bit of bread to go with his salad and got slices of hot ciabatta, which was also good.
Now carbonara is a dish I'd never order in Ireland. For a start this is the only country in the world that thinks this dish need cream and secondly I've never had a good one. I said nothing when Chris ordered it, I thought I'd just wait and see what he got. What he got was actually very good - it did have some cream, but not enough to ruin the dish. It was well cooked and well flavoured and frankly, I was surprised at how good it was. My pizza was another matter. Quite why anyone thought the burnt offering on my plate was fit to send out to a customer is beyond me, but there it was - the mozzarella topping burnt black. I poked at in a desultory way while Chris enjoyed his pasta, when a waiter asked if I was enjoying it. Well, now that you ask. I'm not, it's burnt.' He offered to make me another, but I thought not. He said I'll get the chef to make you something' and left. He came back with melon and prosciutto and a couple of mushrooms topped with Cashel Blue. Except for the unripe melon all good, especially the high quality prosciutto.
Now I'm going to rant about espressos. I got one of the worst I've ever been served in Dante's - no crema at all, and thin and bitter. If you buy wholesale you could buy a kilo of coffee for maybe 7. Each espresso uses exactly 6 grammes, so you get 166 espressos out of a kilo and at 2 each you get 332 for your 7 outlay. If you spend 10 on a kilo of decent coffee, your profit drops from 325 to 322, which is still huge. So why not give your customers decent coffee? Only a disembodied accountant could think of that 3 as a sensible saving.
We left happy enough though and I discovered that no charge had been made for my pizza. The service charge was 5%, which seemed tiny, so the entire bill came to 54.34 - probably my cheapest dinner to date.