Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Da Enzo (and the Musings of a North Sider)

For somebody who aims to eat out as often as I do, you’d think I grew up surrounded by restaurants and visiting them from the day I could walk! As it happens, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. For one, I only began trying new places to eat in for a hobby some five years ago. It’s a good enough time-span in which to build up an appreciation for cooking and the restaurant industry but not a lifetime’s experience. The other is that I live, and always have done, in Beaumont; a small area at the heart of a culinary desert (not dessert, down foodies!) that seemingly covers a lot of what the locals like to call ‘dee Naarth soyid’.

Think for a moment about all of the best restaurant hotspots in Dublin.

Done?

Okay.

The city centre is a given, and I’m sure a few of you thought of Dundrum, Blackrock, Ranelagh, Dun Laoighre, Rathmines, Dalkey and so on. Coastal regions like Clontarf, Malahide and Howth excepted, how many areas could you think of that weren’t on the South side? I can say with years of certainty that you won’t find anything better than a chain of takeaways in Beaumont, whilst there isn’t much excitement to speak of in the surrounding Coolock, Artane or Ballymun. Further afield you have Killester, Raheny, Donaghmede and Finglas, all of which are simply no match for what some of the city’s more vibrant dining areas. Strictly speaking on foodie terms of course! There is a healthy collection of cafés and one or two evening restaurants in close proximity to each other as you near Drumcondra, but at that stage you’re getting to within walking distance of the city centre, not to mention being a few doors down from one Bertie Ahern’s residence. Just to give you a better idea of where the area I'm referring to starts and stops, here's a picture parading my wicked Google Earth skills:


The reality is that I’d be surprised if many of you named any of the latter areas listed, if one on the North side outright! Neither do I blame you; all of the above locales suffer from a comparative dearth of any exciting, modern restaurants. The occasional long standing but run of the mill Italian bistro will punctuate a street every few miles, but nowhere will you find something to compare with the dynamism of Dublin’s current food scene darlings, yet alone a collection of them. The gaping void that’s left is filled mostly with chippers, Chinese takeaways and McDonald’s, give or take an Eddie Rockets in a couple of shopping malls. If you need any proof short of personally driving around and searching for a reputable place to eat, look no further than Menupages for some rough statistics. It doesn’t represent Dublin’s eating scene in its entirety, but a quick add and subtract job reveals that there are approximated one-hundred and thirty reviewed restaurants in and around the areas I’m talking about, as opposed to the one thousand or thereabouts you’ll find in the direction of Dublin City Centre and the South side. 

In a nutshell, there’s a lack of good restaurants or general foodie destinations in and around where I live and, for the most part, it’s always been that way. That’s not to say there aren’t any places to eat outright; our Indian takeaway certainly isn’t the worst by comparison, but we have little to go by in the way of sit down eateries that you’d actually walk away from looking forward to the next visit, if indeed you find one to visit at all! So, you can understand why we greet any and all new arrivals with not only excitement, but a hefty dollop of cautiousness. Da Enzo – a curiously placed Italian restaurant sitting on top of a paint shop and crèche – is one such example, and although it did everything possible to look like the kind of restaurant you should avoid, it was only a matter of time before I cracked and gave it the benefit of the doubt. Never judge a book by its cover, right? Or a restaurant by its menu... Actually, scratch that and I’ll get back to you with a batter food analogy!



Rhetoric aside, the good news about Da Enzo was that it gave Rebecca and me plenty to discuss afterwards. The bad barely needs explaining; terrible food, a completely dead atmosphere and prices that flatter to deceive. Highlights included the dying plants on each window ledge, pictures of sushi on the fish menu page and, best of all, an electric pepper mill that not only grinds on command but also shines a spotlight onto your food! Speaking of which, you don’t need any more than summaries and a few pictures to tell where it all went wrong: 





Soggy, tasteless bruscehtta on a ciabba- sorry, cuisine de France roll; chewy chunks of plain chicken masquerading as a starter; ravioli cooked into a sloppy oblivion and oozing enough truffle oil to literally make you feel ill; the list continues ad nauseum, but there’s very little reason to spend any more than a few lines on discussing how Da Enzo gets it so badly wrong. No, my main concern is more to do with the potential influence it has on the locals of an area that offers little else in the way of proper dining alternatives.

Now I know what you’re thinking:

“but Rob, Dublin’s a small city and it takes only five minutes to walk from one side to the other! Surely one or two mediocre restaurants aren’t going to end up being the sum total of a north-side Dubliner’s eating universe?”

To which I would say that you’re absolutely correct; it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the majority of Dublin’s population spends as much time commuting to the city centre or beyond as I do, which is effectively almost every day I have to spare at this stage! Business or pleasure, we all do it. Nonetheless, working for a couple of years in Finglas and Donaghmede has made it quite clear to me that a vast collection of frazzled parents, nonchalant pensioners and generally unadventurous inner North siders find it difficult to follow suit, either by design or circumstance. When I suggest in work that they head into town to find a more specific DVD or CD, half of the time their faces will be painted with a look of disgust that implies I’ve just asked them to carry a cross all the way to Calgary! Normally I laugh at reactions like that, but after visiting Da Enzo it got me thinking about everything in food terms. Essentially, what you have is a number of people who live in the aforementioned North side ‘culinary desert’ who are either unable or simply don’t want to travel far enough to eat in any of Dublin’s restaurant hotspots. If they instead prefer to stay close to home and try the local eateries, what they’ll more than likely experience is something that falls far short of what the city’s best and brightest have to offer.

The part that I find particularly hard to swallow is that for a lack of any good, local alternatives with which diners can compare, restaurants that fill the gap like Da Enzo can not only afford to continue rolling out poorly executed food, but also charge prices that are vastly disproportionate to the quality of what you get. Most of their pasta mains hit in and around the fifteen euro mark; equivalent to, or more expensive in some cases than what you might find in Nico’s of Dame street, a reliable and well respected Italian restaurant in and amongst Dublin foodies. Of course, this is exactly the kind of establishment I’m referring to when I talk about what a lot of unknowing North siders are missing out on, both in terms of vastly superior food and the money you ultimately save!

Just as bad is that for all intents and purposes, Da Enzo presents itself as being an authentic ‘Italiano Ristorante’ (which is incorrect ordering, right?) with flowery descriptions detailing how traditional and wholesome each and every single item on the menu is. Anyone with experience in eating out would see right through this kind of wordy veneer before the food even arrived, but to the everyday, once-in-a-while diner it might as well be a ringing testimonial. And who can blame them for thinking so?  There doesn’t appear to be one restaurant in all of the North Dublin City areas I’ve listed that comes anywhere near to serving genuine Italian fare, yet alone any other

At the end of the day and despite the ins and outs of immobile or unadventurous locals, the mouths of North siders from Finglas across to Killester are there to be fed, no different to those of Dun Laoighre or Ranelagh. If any given type of restaurant were to open in a convenient location therein and serve reasonably priced food cooked with just a little bit of love and passion, then I have no doubt that it would be just as successful as any or all of Dublin’s current favourites. What is there to suggest otherwise? Like I’ve always said, food is one of the few things that unifies absolutely every person on this planet, regardless of race or caste. Appreciation for genuinely good food in Dublin is not something that disappears entirely once you cross the Liffey, and there’s a vast amount of potential in all of the unfilled spaces up there. Modern Irish, Indian, authentic Italian, Mexican; each a style of food that as of yet has little to no good quality representation on the inner North side, each a prospective goldmine for anyone gutsy enough to try and introduce them to an altogether deprived group of people.

Of course, all of the above is simply an ideal. The reality is that anybody looking to open a restaurant with serious intent in the way of genuinely good food will automatically feel inclined to target the existing demography and locate in and around the areas that are already bursting with culinary options. The Catering industry is, as things stand, a risky business to be starting up in and it's easy to understand how the added element of venturing into the largely uncovered territory of North Dublin City is enough to put most burgeoning restaurateurs off, yet alone experienced ones! What you have left are those who look to exploit the situation, and this unfortunately appears to be the trend that is set to continue. Only last week I discovered that a restaurant/café called D9 will be opening just around the corner from my house. As always, I'm optimistic and will definitely give it a try, however the ever-present cautiousness remains. So, here's hoping for a pleasant surprise and to be able to say that for once I have my very own good, local restaurant.

Da Enzo
25G, Sunnyside,
Malahide Road,
Artane,
Dublin 5

Tph: 01-4420013

http://daenzoitalianrestaurant.ie/home.php

1 comment:

  1. Ah ah ah, great blog! I always thought that an Italian restaurant that calls itself "Italiano Ristorante" has to be avoided at all cost! Yes you're right, you would say "Ristorante Italiano". The look of the place from the outside never inspired me, but I'm glad you confirmed my suspicions, those pictures also speak for themselves, oh-my-god... awful!
    Cheers!

    Your new (Twitter!) follower
    @frenchgourmetfd

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