Forchetta Italian Restaurant is in the Crown Plaza Hotel, near the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre.
Groucho Marx once famously said: "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." This was the remark that gave the eponymous venue in London its name. Its members presumably feel like Groucho did about clubs.
I've never been into clubs. But there's usually an exception to a rule and it's no different in my case. I'm a member of the Italian Federation of Chefs, or in Italian, La Federazione Italiana Cuochi, or FIC – my only membership of any organisation.
This group is dedicated to promoting Italian cuisine, cherishing tradition and prizing authenticity in recipes. The Irish branch is headed by Paolo Fresilli, a name you've seen in this column many times, of Via Veneto in Enniscorthy.
Like me, Paolo is always on the lookout for chefs that will further the ideals of the FIC. It was he who told me about Francesco de Miranda in the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Actually, I'd already heard great reports of the Italian restaurant in Blanchardstown from Gerard Carthy. But somehow it seemed such an unlikely venue for a proper Italian that I hadn't taken it too seriously. It took Paolo to say: "I'll book us in and we'll go together," for it to happen.
On the night, we were three, Paolo, his wife Diana and me. We met at the hotel, easily found just off the M50, and we went into the restaurant called Forchetta, which means fork in Italian. By the way, 'ch' in Italian is pronounced 'k', as in Chianti. So the restaurant name is pronounced 'for-ketta'.
The Crowne Plaza is a four-star hotel, so a lot of money has been spent on the interior design, and that holds true for the restaurant as well. There are some striking features in the decor – a huge fork made of hundreds of individual forks, an imposing wine cellar and photos of forks on the walls. You could say the interior is themed.
We sat down and chef Francesco brought us menus and gave us a few pointers. "I've got a beautiful sea bass in from Northern Ireland and some really fresh mussels," he said.
Paolo jumped in right away and said, "I'll have the sea bass and can you make me a pasta dish with the mussels?" The answer was yes. But there was still a lot to order because we had decided to eat Italian-style – starting with an antipasto, then a pasta dish, then a main of either fish or meat.
That sounds like a lot of food, and, trust me, it is. Not everyone would be able to eat their way through that lot and then have a dessert. It takes commitment.
Regardless, we ordered calamari rings, suppli and beans with sausage as our antipasti. The calamari was cooked just right, so they were tender inside and crisp outside. We shared our plates around, so I got to taste the soup made with beans and sausage, a real classic of peasant cooking and really delicious, and the suppli, which is rice balls, crumbed and deep-fried. The dishes were a taste of Italy, and the suppli, in particular, took us all back there.
Now you've seen me say a lot of times that pasta should be cooked al dente. In other words, it shouldn't be soggy, but should retain a bite.
The chefs here take it seriously and cook the pasta more al dente than I would. So if you don't like pasta hard, tell them when you order and they'll cook it for longer.
We had three pasta, or rather farinaceous, dishes for the next course. Diana ordered the gnocchi Vesuvio, a nod to the volcano of Francesco's native city of Naples, Paolo had the spaghetti with mussels and I had the amatriciana.
The gnocchi came with a spicy tomato sauce topped with basil. It was very good, mainly because the sauce had been properly reduced. That was also true for my amatriciana. You could taste all the elements in combination, as the quantities were so well judged. Paolo's meal was the same as spaghetti alle vongole, except the clams were replaced with mussels.
Hard to believe, but after all this we were about to start our main courses. Diana went for the seafood risotto, Paolo the sea bass special and me the veal escalope.
On the menu, the escalope looked like it might have been a saltimbocca, since the listed ingredients were veal, sage and prosciutto. Only the added mozzarella made me think it might be something else. And so it was. It was what Italians call an involtino – a thin escalope rolled up with the sage and cheese inside and cooked with white wine.
It arrived on my plate sliced, drizzled with the sauce and topped with flat leaf parsley and finely sliced red peppers.
Diana's seafood risotto was a delight, a mix of shellfish served with a few mussel shells for garnish, whereas Paolo had a plate that looked like a work of art, with beautifully presented sea bass served as two fillets, wrapped around a fish filling.
Next, we ordered a small dessert for sharing. On a platter came three skewers of fruit, three panna cotta in tall, thin pots and three irresistible, absurdly rich chocolate pots.
Two espressos, three bottles of mineral water and two glasses of house Merlot brought the bill to €149.90.
If you enjoy Italian food, this restaurant won't disappoint. I learnt from Francesco that 95pc of what he uses in the kitchen comes from Italy, so you'll get as genuine and authentic an Italian meal as is possible.