La Caverna is a wonderful Italian restaurant situated in the heart of Temple Bar. It has been run by Dan Balau for the past eight years, and he has transformed this 300 year old building which used to be The Wine Cellar into a contemporary restaurant over three levels. They have left the exposed brick work all down one side which gives real character and placed loads of tea lights into the wall on the other creating a truly intimate atmosphere
Walking up Fownes Street towards La Caverna you will first see two large flaming torches on the outside of the building. On arrival we were greeted by Dan and Monica and seated at a lovely table in the cellar, where there was a great crowd so the place was simply buzzing. The Cellar is a long tunnel like room with a large wine rack to the back of the room. There were several tables for two along the right hand side and banquette seating to left accommodating larger groups. R
As we began to browse through the menus and wine list we were brought a bread board with a selection of homemade breads and two dips, one of which was garlic and the other roast red peppers, and some marinated olives plus a large bottle of still water.
There’s an early bird menu available seven days from 1-7pm offering 2 courses for €18.95 and 3 for €21.95, with a good selection from the A la Carte available including garlic prawns or calamari to start and Italian risotto, lamb shank or fish of the day for mains.
On the la carte menu there is a choice of 15 starters ranging in price from €5.45 with three soup options; seafood chowder, minestrone or soup of the day, up to €9.95 for a selection of Italian cured meats and other options like grilled squid or sautéed mussels.
There is also a good selection on main courses, priced between €20.95 for an 8oz sirloin steak with all the trimmings to €23.95 for venison cacciatore or a Barbary duck breast, rack or shank of lamb plus their signature cozze, served either as a pot of mussels with cream and white wine, or on a bed of spaghetti. All the classic pasta dishes make and appearance, and there are pizzas too if that is what you fancy.
Recently Dan and the team have put a lot of work into the wine selection. The wine list is now extensive with a selection of 150 bottles ranging in price from €19 to €300 for a bottle, but what now makes it stand out is that all are available by the glass. Lazlo is the in house sommelier and is always on hand and only too delighted to be able to tell you about the wines or give his suggestions based on what you are eating. Having spent a number of years working at Fade Street Social with Dylan McGrath he is a real asset to La Caverna.
To start I went off the Italian piste and chose the garlic prawns, a large serving of pan-fried tiger prawns in garlic butter served with stir fried vegetables which were served in a filo pastry basket with wild basmati rice. Fred went with a spicy Arrabiata with large tiger prawns, and both of our fishy starters were delicious and it was hard to pick a winner.
We followed Lazlo's recommendations on wines and Fred had a glass of the Bechar 2012 Fiano Di Avellino, a spicy aromatic wine from the Southern region of Italy while I had the Gewurztraminer Cavit 2013 from Trentino, a fruity choice, also from Italy but this time the North. They we both great choices and I was now excited moving into mains as the bar was already set so high.
I followed with the special of grilled whole sea bass served with a potato gratin & salsa while he chose the rack of perfectly pink lamb served with creamy mash and seasonal vegetables, which retained a crunch. The wine chosen to accompany the sea bass was Sancerre Domaine Vacherin La Casa Incolina 2012, while a Barbaressco 2010, the female of the Barolo, went with the lamb.
It makes sense to choose, or have chosen for you, wines that really suit the dish, and with a large selection like in La Caverna, and some expert advice, it’s the only way to go. The stemware is worth a mention; with 6 inch stems and glasses the size of a gold fish bowl, they are fairly spectacular.
We finished with Tiramisu and a Kaluha coffee for myself and Bailey's cheesecake with a cappuccino for Fred; the perfect end to a very special evening. A visit to La cavern is something we will definitely be repeating in the not too distant future; the ideal adult space for quality time together.