Like most of us, Lucinda O'Sullivan enjoys an occasional Italian – but she likes to be sure it's the real thing.
Looking for something reasonably priced to eat in Ireland, we often think of "an Italian" (meal, that is, not a person). The problem is that some of them bear no resemblance whatsoever to what you would enjoy in Italy. In fact, last year the Italian government initiated a drive to try and ensure that Italian food was properly represented around the world – a pretty tall order. How can they monitor thousands of "Little Italian Places" globally? Indeed, some of the "Little Italian Places" I've been in were owned by Croatians, Egyptians or Lebanese.
In pizza/pasta places there's a format. Take the starters: Insalata Caprese, made with cold, unripe Irish tomatoes and rubbery mozzarella cheese; suppli – a cheesy filling inside deep-fried balls of rice on which you could a driver down the fairway; and polpette – meatballs that are nothing like what Mamma used to make.
But some Italian restaurants are the real thing. A truly Italian restaurant is La Dolce Vita, above the Patriot's Inn in Kilmainham, where we dropped in after an evening of culture ar the Royal Hospital. It seems popular with the thespians: first we met actors Frank Melia and Gerry Walsh breaking bread with family and friends; then we met Peter Sutton Fitzgibbon, the most wonderful decorative painter in Ireland. (His father is the actor Dudley Sutton. Dudley was the "Tinker" in Lovejoy and is now in EastEnders chatting up Alfie's granny.) Peter is a big fan of the carbonara and the friendliness at La Dolce Vita, a very warm and welcoming restaurant with a neighbourhood feel.
The menu proffered 13 starters including deep-fried calamari, the inevitable chili wings, garlic mushrooms and something called tiger mussels – "mashed breaded mussels in the shell served over a bed of salad tossed with olive oil and Pernod sauce". That would have you breathing fire, I'd say. We kicked off with Gamberetti Piccanti (€5.90) – three prawns in their shells butterflied and served with shredded greenery and a twirl of spicy tomato sauce. Brendan had Pollo Frittas (€5.50) – deep-fried goujons of chicken fillets with a garlic dip.
There were 14 pastas from €9.90 to €12.50 including three or four tagliatelle and fettuccini dishes, both of which I rather like to see on menus, and a wide variety of Pizzas.
Brendan ordered fillet of chicken wrapped in Parma ham and stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese (€16.50). It looked good, accompanied by a very large portion of Italian potatoes, and he was very happy. I had Fettuccini alla Siciliana (€11.80) with "slices of Italian sausage, aubergine, chilies, and basil in a light tomato sauce". I didn't like the sauce – next time, I'll have Peter's favourite carbonara.
With a bottle of Antinori Santa Christina 2001 (€18.50), our bill – including the optional service, which was excellent – €68.20. A very friendly spot.
Every so often you come across a restaurant that you wonder why you have not tried it before. We had that experience only last week. La Dolce Vita Italian Restaurant is that kind of restaurant – a family run affair that knows all there is to know about customer care and service with a smile and understanding for peoples particular tastes. Situated above The Patriot's Inn in Kilmainham opposite the new Hilton, Kilmainham and Kilmainham Jail. We understand that already guests staying at the hotel have been recommending it to other guests as a restaurant they must include in their list of places to try.
The success of many Italian restaurants lie in the ability to blend herbs and real food and cook in a traditional style unique to a particular area of Italy. the prices are very reasonable and range on the menu will suit all taste buds. From soup of the day to Smoked Magret (smoked breast of duck served on seasonal leaves and caramelised pear), or a Bruschetta, or Garlic Mushrooms for starters. Main courses include many pizza and pasta dishes as well as Medallions of Fillet Beef or Sirloin Steak, or perhaps a Sea Bass Fillet or Lemon Sole.
The nature of the evening and the chat we had with proprietor Maria led us to meet other diners who told us of their experience of La Dolce Vita. Brian and Pauline McMullen with their son Eoghan and Pamela Kinsella told us they have made nights out here a regular event. They recommend the Black Tiger Prawn dish and added that they have always been treated so well by the staff. "We used to know almost all the dishes on the old menu but now that they have introduced a new menu influenced by Maria's recent travels we are still enjoying some of the new dishes. Another couple, Sean and Angela kearney, had travelled with another couple to visit what they say os now one of their favourites. Sean interestingly recently won a prize with one of the radio stations for submitting the best Italian recipe in a competition built around Italian food. A couple we met from Clonskeagh told us they first came here as a result of an invitation by friends. They have now come back "quite often".
The Italians love their ice-cream and delicacies. I cannot resist a home made Tiramisu and you won't be disappointed with their serving. Allow yourself the luxury on the choice desserts and relax with a coffee and after dinner drink.
Some other time I will tell you about our meal and our very eventful fun evening. In the meantime try La Dolce Vita yourself. Booking is recommended, but they do try to cater for everyone. The telephone number is 01 616 9581 and the restaurant is located at 760 South Circular Road.
It's all about experience. And after working for more than 10 years in Italy and Germany, La Dolce Vita's head chef Georgio knows just how to combine the right ingredients for the best tastes.
With house favourites such as Chicken a La Dolce Vita – grilled chicken breast in a light sauce with whole baked red pepper, onion, mushrooms and bacon it's easy to see he has got the recipe right.
La Dolce Vita, established just over a year ago by Maria and Dorel Lenghel, is ideal for family get togethers, business meetings and that ever-important romantic evening.
Diners are treated to excellent food at reasonable prices with an extensive selection of pastas and pizzas available for 10–11 euro. Italian-style mains are priced at 15–19 euro and several Irish dishes are also available for 15–19 euro.
Other popular dishes include Italian style lamb chops and all the pizzas are made fresh on the premises with loads of the best toppings.
The restaurant is open from Monday to Sunday for lunch and dinner and service is provided by homely, professional staff. On-street parking is available.
La Dolce Vita has a full bar licence and offers an extensive international wine list priced from 15 to 27 euro. Bookings are recommended for weekends and there is no service charge.
The restaurant is located above The Patriots Inn Pub in the historic Village of Kilmainham, opposite Kilmainham Museum and Court and close to the Royal Hospital.