Da Mimmo Italian restaurant in in the heart of the north inner city, jst down from the Five Lamps. Paolo visits with some friends.
Last week I left you in The Hot Stove restaurant in Parnell Square, where I was dining with Marian the Blonde, and Harry and Rita Crosbie. Over dinner that night, Harry told me about one of his discoveries in the North Strand– a tiny Italian restaurant, which he assured me was "a little gem".
"It's just around the corner from where I grew up," he continued. "My dad would have been gob-smacked to find a restaurant, never mind an Italian restaurant, near our house. That's how much we've changed."
I nodded and smiled, but I had my doubts. So many soi-disant Italian restaurants end up disappointing me. It's almost as though there's a consensus – add rocket and a splash of balsamic vinegar to anything at all and it's Italian.
Later in the week, I was talking to Harry and he said, "Come on, let's give it a go". So we did. We ended up as a foursome, because apart from Harry, Rita and me, we were joined by Simon, Harry's son.
On the way there we traded inner-city trivia. "It's called the North Strand Road because the northern edge of the bay was right here," was one. "After they built the North Wall, they reclaimed the land in between the wall and the old coastline," was another. And, "Did you know there was a Clontarf Island that became part of the reclaimed land?"
And so, well-informed on the history of the North Strand, we found our way to Da Mimmo. The name means Dominic's place, but inside we were met not by Mimmo but by Tino. Turns out that Tino is from Casalattico, the town next to mine, and it's where my father was mayor just after the Second World War.
Inside it's small – just five or six tables packed into a tiny space in front of a deli counter.
Now, I want to be clear here. There are people to whom their surroundings are more important than the food, and there are people who think the opposite is the case.
If you're one of the first group, this may not be a restaurant for you. The interior is fairly basic, the tables are plain and unadorned, and the chairs are, frankly, uncomfortable.
As well as that, the tables are very close to one another and there's little space to manoeuvre. While you eat, there's a constant stream of people coming in to buy their takeaway pizzas, threading their way carefully between the tables.
If, like us, you can live with all that, then you'll be presented with a menu that is fairly basic, but is essentially Italian, despite errors such as Genoa for Genova, Matriciana for Amatriciana and fungi for funghi.
It lists antipasti, or starters, then pizzas and pasta dishes. There's a blackboard with the day's specials as well, so between the two there were plenty of choices.
We ordered two starters, a seafood soup and a Caprese salad, both from the blackboard, then four main courses: pan-fried prawns, lasagna, seafood tagliatelle and gnocchi Amatriciana.
Rita and I studied the wine list, which is entirely Italian and is very fairly priced, with wines starting at well below €20. We picked what turned out to be an excellent Nebbiolo, priced at a modest €23.50.
The first thing that arrived at the table was some sourdough bread and a pesto dip, plus a few olives. The pesto dip was freshly made and very good, making a good start to the meal.
The seafood soup was well done, being made with tomatoes and mussels and served with toasted sourdough bread, but the Caprese salad was missing a vital ingredient – basil. It was replaced with rocket – and a good, spicy rocket – but a Caprese salad needs basil to be a Caprese. When there are only four ingredients to a dish, you can't help but notice when one is missing.
The next courses were all pretty good. Across the table from me, Simon was presented with his lasagna, and I could see that it was properly cooked.
There's a shortcut some cooks take, which is to tray up a lasagna with uncooked sheets of pasta, allowing them to cook in the sauces while it's in the oven. This results in a stodgy lasagna, because the starch in the pasta remains in the final dish. If the pasta sheets are cooked first, then the starch goes into the cooking water and is not in the final dish.
You can tell simply by looking how a lasagna has been cooked. If it has sharp, vertical edges, then it's been trayed up raw and it'll be a stodgy dish. If it's floppy, like Simon's, then you know it's been properly cooked.
Harry had a plate of pan-fried prawns, which were firm and tasty, Rita had the seafood tagliatelle, which was competently done, and I had the gnocchi, which were very well done.
Potato gnocchi often make a change from pasta in Italy, and frequently they come with a sauce more usually found on pasta, as in the case of this dish, the Amatriciana. Gnocchi can often be hard, but mine were melt-in-the-mouth, and the sauce was also well done. Of all the dishes, I thought this was the best.
We finished up with three desserts: a panna cotta, a tiramisu, and ice cream. All were acceptable, but the panna cotta would have been better served not so cold. It arrived at fridge temperature, but improved as it reached room temperature. A couple of espressos brought our bill to €108.40.