Cantina restaurant has brought a little bit of Milan to Carlow with small plates and fine wine, a relaxed almost bohemian style while offering exceptional value for money.
Ballinteer native Richie Fenner opened Café Formenti on Carlow’s Dublin Street back in 2007 after years of travelling around the world working in some of the best kitchens and gaining a solid training plus a true passion for food.
Over the next 8 years he gained quite a reputation, predominantly for his evening soirees. Feeling unchallenged he decided to reinvent it and back in May of this year reopened as Cantina. The restaurant is small, however he has made the best use of the space available with neat tables and banquette seating.
The menu is well put together and there’s a good variety to choose from starting with ‘Bits & Bites’; little somethings to get the taste buds working while browsing the menu. We decided to share the rosemary focaccia bread with mixed olives and some spicy herb potatoes which were delicious, helped by the fact all breads are baked fresh daily in the kitchen.
The wine list is presented by Findlater and offers a good selection, predominantly Italian wines, however you will find some New World and South American also, and they are all priced under the €28 mark, or averaging around €6 by the glass.
Californian born Maurice was working front of house and he recommended a lovely Frascati for myself, a Fontana Candida which was a light very palatable choice. Connie had the Folonari Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which she described as a very satisfying red, full of body and flavour.
We decided to share four dishes, so first was fritto misto di pesce; prawns and squid in a polenta crumb and served with a lemon and parsley dipping sauce which was so delicious we used it for the potatoes also. A Caprese salad with pancetta, large slices of buffalo mozzarella and ripe beef tomato sprinkled with fresh basil was light and delicious, while a wild mushroom crostini topped with Irish goats cheese was a great combination and was well balanced between the flavour of the wild mushrooms and the sweet yet tangy goat’s cheese. The star dish however was the chicken Marsala; succulent juicy breast of chicken cooked in a good Marsala wine and served with a rocket salad.
When it came to dessert there were four choices, all offering a battle of flavours in the mouth. There was a white chocolate torte with pomegranate, my favourite tiramisu, tortorizo with orange or a pannacotta with lime and honeycomb crisp. I had the tiramisu and was not disappointed, it was light, fresh and just the right amount of coffee liqueur, while Connie had the Panna Cotta which was so creamy with a real kick from the lime while the sweetness of the honeycomb crisp perfectly complimented the dish. If you’re more savoury than sweet there was also a cheese board with a good selection of Irish and Italian cheeses served with an onion and red wine relish.
Live jazz music added to the evening, and Cantina was a great night out on all levels and a huge addition to Carlow’s eating out scene. Well worth a visit.