Dublin has a brand of restaurants called Dunne and Crescenzi. They’re all various incarnations of Italian eateries, supposedly serving Italian food with an Irish twist. The twist is in the prices, but more of that later. I’ve been to several of the outlets, notably the one in Sandymount and the one in South Frederick Street, off Nassau St. in Dublin city centre. And they have a more up-market restaurant called Nonna Valentina, near Portobello, which although expensive served myself and partner a good meal once.
I love Italian food. I’ve been to Italy several times and have recently returned from Sicily (visiting Stromboli, Salina, and Syracuse). The basis of all of their food is wonderful ingredients – whether it be cheese, wine, bread, olive oil, fresh fish, parma ham, or olives. Which is partly why I would go to a place like Dunne and Crescenzi. I look forward to the promise of the Italian friendliness and the great food. However, more than once now, I’ve been heartily disappointed. We got surly and unfriendly service in the Sandymount location more than once. We turned up one time, for example, when the place was half empty. The (Australian) waitress made a show of looking up and down a long list of names and saying she might be able to squeeze us in, but only until 8pm. Hence, we were hurried through a banal and over-priced meal. Needless to say, come 8pm, the place was even more empty than it was when we entered. Along with other experiences, we were beginning to lose faith.
Along comes Sunday, and hurrah, we are visiting Farmleigh house in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. It is a gorgeous house, once owned by an heir to the Guinness fortune and now converted into Ireland’s official residence of choice for visiting dignitaries. (I believe Clinton has stayed there, and Jimmy Carter is due in a couple of weeks…). They host free tours of the house and let you wander freely around the marvellous gardens. I’d recommend a visit if you are into that sort of thing. Well, when it came to having a bite to eat, we trotted down to their Boathouse. We only discovered later that it is run by the Dunne and Crescendi chain. The blurb claims: “The new team will bring their own unique merging of Italian and Irish food traditions to the Boathouse Café at Farmleigh, where they will offer a specially-created menu presented with excellent value and service.” (My emphasis).
I casually ordered tortellini with dried mushrooms and my partner asked for penne pasta with salmon. We had two glasses of Pinot Grigio, two coffees, and a single sponge cake dessert. My dish was horrendous, simply awful. The pasta was dry and uninspiring while the mushrooms were a disaster. The pasta with salmon was just that: no sauce, aside from a sprinkling of olive oil. The salmon was crusty and tasteless, while the pasta was beyond sad. The wine was forgettable and the coffees just ok. We were just remarking at how weak the dinner was when I was presented with the bill for this “experience”. It was for 50 euros!! The “special” tortellini was 17.50, while the pasta dish was 11.50, with the drinks and sponge making up the rest. For a snack that left me hungry, it was, quite frankly, appalling. Along with most Irish people, we generally don’t complain about our food when in the restaurant. I came as close as I’ve ever come to complaining this time. I feebly exclaimed shock at the price but the waiter directed me to the “specials board” where the price was clearly marked. Indeed, yes, it was clearly marked 17.50 in chalk. That I hadn’t asked about the price when ordering was my fault then, apparently, which makes it alright I suppose!
My recommendation is to save your money and enjoy the real deal at Dublin’s greatest Italian restaurant, by far. It is in the humble village of Inchicore, just around the corner from where I live. It is called Enoteca Torino. They serve the best pasta in Dublin by a long way. They don’t promise “an experience” or hire Italian students to try and give it a fake Italian flavour. They just are Italian. And the food is cooked with such love and care and charged at such reasonable prices that it blows away the Dunne and Crescendi rip-off merchants. Visit it. Often. Love it and spend money there so that they stay. And don’t expect quick service or a fake smile. Indeed, half expect endless delays and loud shouted Italian and gesticulating waiters. But heck, it’s the food you are there for so stay and enjoy.