Friday, March 5, 2010

Nico's Restaurant

A picture says a thousand words. When there’s food involved, they have the power to get your stomach talking as well! Food photography has developed massively in recent decades, a lot of focus (pun unintended) having shifted from representing exactly what had been cooked in a defined manner to making the food in question look as tempting as physically possible. Depth of field has become a necessity, lighting and setting arrangement; even post work is more than often applied to make that sauce just a little bit more colourful. There are times when you can almost taste the photograph, be it an extreme close up of hot, bubbling lasagne or a sweeping shot of a market cheese stand. I’m what you’d probably call a (very) amateur food photographer; I can use a camera, understand the importance of colour balance when you have a red napkin in front of a white bowl filled with orange liquid and of course, the actual setup of a scene but it’s an area unlikely to be ever something I’ll become overly rigorous at. A quick, decent shot is all I need in most cases, one that strikes a simple balance between showing you everything that’s on offer and making it look just a little bit more than edible – AKA, desirable, particularly when I’m eating out; there’s no point in giving deserved praise to a dish and producing a shoddy photo to back up your words with.

So, when Darcie and I arrived at Nico’s on Wednesday evening and I realised I’d forgotten my camera, I felt both annoyed and, well, kind of excited to be honest! Annoyed because I wouldn’t get to show off to you in pictures what this little Italian restaurant can serve up, excited at the chance to persuade you not with pretty colours but with only what I can write. It may not be quite a picture’s thousand words, I may not even reach five hundred for that matter. But if it gets you through Nico’s door and into one of their seats then my job here will be done.

On that point, passing through the door is an experience in itself! Dame street: one of the city centre’s largest, busiest roads. Nico’s is located at the George’s street junction. It’s loud, it’s hectic. You step inside and as if almost by magic you’re not only transported to an island of quiet and calm, but an altogether grand room that has the look of a classy 1950’s New York restaurant! Soothing world music piped in overhead only further suggests that Emilio Cirillo, Nico’s director, is on a mission to sedate the Dublin masses, fully aware of how exactly his location ought to be used. Given it had taken Darcie and I less time than we thought to shop for soup ingredients, we arrived quite early and had the entire place to ourselves for the best part of a half hour. On closer inspection, the unmistakable Italian nature of Nico’s begins to shine through: drawings of Venetian and Roman architecture adorn the walls and the waiters on hand spoke quietly to each other in the native tongue. It’s no secret I’d been looking forward to this visit for some time, almost as long as the restaurant itself has been around for! And that’s a long time, Nico’s is one of Dublin’s oldest restaurants. The decor, the live piano in the evening and the presence of an good, old fashioned prawn cocktail on the menu all point in the direction of a lingering history about the place. However, none of it ever gives you the impression that it’s gotten caught in a time loop, unaware of itself. Not least the food, the eating of which was left mostly to me all evening. Don’t mistake that for a complaint.

Whilst Darcie waited for dessert, I started with Nico’s antipasti platter and for the mains, ravioli doppio burro (a meat ravioli in a heavy cream sauce with pepper). What impressed me about both of these dishes was the relative lack of any extravagant presentation yet their almost perfect execution. The antipasti included parma ham, salami, sautéed mushrooms, black olives and a good helping of creamy provolone cheese, all drizzled lightly in olive oil. Italian restaurants (in their vast numbers throughout the city) will often serve you a platter of cured meat, such as this, drowned in olive oil and nearly inedible. Nico’s, however, gets it just right. The mushrooms were also a nice touch, and underlined the ethic of fusion with Irish ingredients in their cuisine. My meat ravioli was no less enjoyable, and one of the most well balance dishes I’ve ever eaten. Despite the sauce being described as both heavy and creamy, it never once overpowered any of the other flavours. In every bite you got exactly what was described: pasta, lightly spiced minced meat, a thick, creamy sauce and pepper. It was all there, not one element went AWOL. Well, after about ten minutes the entire dish had, but what did they expect with food that delicious? I finished with a tiramisu which delivered the added firmness in the Italian lady fingers I’d been crying out for, whilst Darcie had a fluffy gateaux that I really should have stolen more of.

In total, the bill came to just under fifty euro for a three course dinner plus one dessert. It was a bargain for having tried the main course alone, not to mention that Nico’s menu is filled with a great selection of pasta dishes under the fifteen euro mark. Just as we got ready to leave, the legendary piano man I’ve heard so much about arrived, on cue as predicted. If I had one regret, it’s that we didn’t get to stay to hear more of him. With food this good, he’ll have to be the third reason I’ll come back. The second, of course, being to take a picture or two.

Nico’s Restaurant
53, Dame Street,
Dublin 2

Tph: 01-6773062


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