Every now and then, I am asked for a place where to eat good authentic Italian food in Dublin. Rosa Madre is my new answer.
Most of the times my first answer to this sort of question actually is a sarcastic “at my home”. As every Italian, I am usually quite skeptical about the menus offered by Italian restaurants abroad.
You go there with high expectations of the simplicity and the respect for high quality ingredients that makes the ethos of Italian cuisine. Instead, you find yourself – generally speaking – in a nightmare of bad quality mysterious oil, burnt garlic smell and chicken pesto overcooked pasta. And all this have been probably prepared by a cook that has seen the boot peninsula just in a postcard.
Luckily, not everybody has a so low opinion of restaurant work. In the last years Dublin food scene has been enriched with a good number of Italian eateries whose owners and chefs are serious and passionate.
The last addiction to this brave group is Rosa Madre Restaurant and his roman owner Luca De Marzio.
Started some years ago as a little cafe (Caffè Italiano) in the Crow Street bazaar, Luca’s creature has slowly grown up and is now a real restaurant with two floors to welcome diners.
The business has recently taken the Rosa Madre name (from the owner’s mother) and changed its formula, specializing itself into fish and seafood. Being absolutely crazy for fish and seafood, I absolutely could not say no when my friend Katia invited me for a midweek lunch.
As every respectable Italian style fish restaurant, it shows off a fridge with the catch of the day at the entrance. The customer can evaluate the freshness of the whole gurnard and seabass and choose from there or can simply trust the manager’s advice.
Dining outside should not be only eating food, paying the bill and go away. It is a bit like to be welcome in someone’s else home and to explore his world. A precious occasion to learn more about his or her research for the best ingredients and new ways to present them.
Luca knows how to be a good host and the passion for his job truly transpires when he tells you stories about his latest gourmet discoveries. From Irish sea urchins to this new extra virgin olive oil that he absolutely wants you to try.
Our lunch started with a bruschetta with sautée tender leaves (talli) of capers in olive oil. A real Mediterranean treat from Calabria. Their delicate, salty flavour was a perfect appetizer. Unfortunately, they were so good that I forgot to take a picture! I hope you will forget your hungry writer.
The bruschetta was followed by two starters from the specials. The first one was a classical Italian style octopus salad. The octopus was tender and with a subtle sea flavour, the celery and the carrots were crispy and fresh and the cherry tomatoes gave a sweet note to the dish. Lemon olive oil was offered as seasoning. Flavoured olive oils are not exactly my thing. The additional flavour usually serves as a cover for bad olive oil. But this was the lucky exception and was really good quality. A good mention also for the bread basket. Freshly baked, crisp and abundant.
The second starter was a scallop and razor clam gratin. Served in their shells, they were sprinkled with breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley and cherry tomatoes and oven baked. Believe me, I was missing this simple and delicious way of seafood cooking so much. When the ingredients are first quality and fresh (as it happens with this Irish seafood), you really don’t need to add more. And Rosa Madre chef Francesco Mambelli seems to know it very well.
When it was time for the main dishes we went for two italian classics from the A la Carte menu.
I enjoyed my spaghetti full of savoury vongole. Not the usual poor four clams left on the top of the pasta that many other restaurants try to pass off as spaghetti with vongole. It could have been a little more saucy, but it is a technical fault that can sometimes happen with this sort of dish.
Katia loved her paccheri with frutti di mare. The paccheri were perfectly al dente and every kind of seafood was wisely cooked with respect of the different textures. Squid and prawns were deliciosly tender and mussels and clams juicy. The different flavours were well combined.
There was a great selection of fish in the fridge to be pickep up and salt baked or grilled, but we were already stuffed. So, we went for something sweet, instead.
Talking about the dessert, Luca seemed incredibly impatient to let us try his latest culinary finding. This mix of artisanal fruit ice cream served in its own fruit shells including prickly pears, chestnut and figs. Of course, the prickly pear one – which is one of my favourite things on earth – totally conquered me. A real explosion of fresh flavours served in a genius setting that reminds a luxury seafood platter.
Speaking of the setting, the restaurant have a elegant classical mood with its white tablecloths and the colourful Mediterranean ceramics. An ideal quiet location for a special occasion.
Don’t be afraid if you are picky about fish and or you are more a meat eater. There is plenty of choice in the A la carte menu, from pork scaloppine, to pollo alla valdostana (breast of chicken topped with mortadella and fontina cheese).
The meal was accompanied by a glass of Sicilian Catarratto white wine.
7 Crow Street
Phone: +353 (0)1 5511206
My humble suggestion – aka things that would make me happier as a customer: A vegetarian choice among the main dishes and more information on the menu about the source of ingredients.
[Photo Credit: Katiuscia Bono]Tags: caffè italiano, dublin, fish, fish restaurant, food stories, irish italian food, italian food, italian restaurant, luca de marzio, restaurant, Rosa Madre, seafood, temple bar