Grano: The Pasta Place We've Been Waiting For
Lisa Cope - 22nd January 2019
What’s the story?
December 2018 was quite the month for restaurant openings in Dublin (Variety Jones, Gertrude, Uno Mas scraping in on the last day of November), and one that we were really intrigued by was Grano in Stoneybatter, where owner Roberto Mungo's Italian mamma had flown over and was in the kitchen making pasta. Mamma Roma quickly gained cult Instagram status, and social media was alight with talk that Dublin had itself an authentic Italian restaurant to eat fresh pasta in.
Where should we go for a drink first?
There are loads of great pubs in Stoneybatter, including L. Mulligan Grocer for one of the best craft beer selections in the city, The Cobblestone for traditional Irish music, and Walshs which was voted best pub in Ireland at last year's Irish Restaurant Awards. Part of the reason for this (apart from the unfalteringly lovely staff) must be the price of the drinks - they sell sherry cask-aged Red Breast whiskey for €10 a measure, when it's more like €18 around town, and Aspall's cider for €5.80, when we've only ever seen it at €8+.
Where should we sit?
It's a really cosy, intimate room, with mostly two tops and some fours, but they will obviously move them together if there's more of you. We were probably at the worst table in front of the door so had an occasional blast of wind when people came in, but we booked late and were just happy to get in at all. If we have another summer like 2018, the one in the path of a breeze will be the one to bag. Otherwise we'd advise sitting as close to the pasta making action as you can get.
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Roberto is originally from Calabria in Southern Italy, and says he wanted to open a place that reminded him of home. A lot of the ingredients come from producers and farmers who are family friends, and he wanted the restaurant to be in Stoneybatter because of its sense of community - it's also where he lives. Before opening Grano, Roberto worked as a sommelier for Wallace Wine Bars, and a look online at the wine list made it obvious the wine was as important as the food. There are no flashy names, just small producers with loads of organic, biodynamic and natural options, and refreshingly reasonable mark ups. So far all was sounding a bit too good to be true.
What's good to eat?
The format of the menu with nibbles, starters, pasta and secondi makes it way too easy to order all the food, but this is the only way to go if you want the full Grano experience (and you do). Portions aren't huge and prices very reasonable so you can get away with ordering from every section. From the nibbles we had the Capocollo ham cured in Primitivo wine, from a family friend's farm in Italy, which had incredible flavour, especially with the Calabrian red wine we were drinking.
From the starters, we had to go for Mamma Roma's stuffed artichoke special with caciocavallo cheese, which was as perfect as we'd hoped it would be. Another of Frisella de Farro (spelt rusk bread that's brushed with water to soften it and topped with cherry tomatoes, oregano, garlic and olive oil) was a bit too soggy for us, and they explained that it's been difficult to get the soakage level right - when it was harder they had people complaining that they were going to break a tooth. They're debating letting people brush their own water on at the table so they can determine their own level of softness, which we think is a great idea.
For mains we obviously had to stick to pasta, but there are a couple of meat/fish dishes on there too. Only certain pastas are made in house, others need machinery and the space is too small, so they bring them over from Italy - look for the ones saying 'homemade' on the menu if you want to know what's what. One that is always made in house is the traditional Calabrian pasta fileja, made using a knitting needle. We had that night's special which was described as a cacio e pepe with artichoke and mint. It wasn't what we know as cacio e pepe, which is just made with pecornio cheese and loads of black pepper, but it was delicious nonetheless, and had a layer of slightly hardening cheese at the bottom that we took great pleasure in scraping off at the end.
Another of Amatriciana with mezzamaniche pasta (imported), black pig guanciale (from the cheek), tomato sauce and pecorino was faultless, and if any dish was going to make us feel like we were eating in Roberto's Calabrian village this was it. So simple but with such explicitly excellent ingredients, there was practically no conversation while eating this.
Marinated anchovies with frigatelli peppers, sourdough and tomato and basil cream were also demolished, and the nduja with crostini (which melts at your table in what looks like an oil diffuser) is the proper Calabrian real deal - which means super spicy. Enter with caution if you're heat-averse. If not you'll love it.
Continuing the pig fest they brought us a half portion of Italian cheeses with chutneys and a little bit of orangey fruit cake, which is surprisingly good in place of a cracker. We finished with tiramisu, which we thought was perfect except for needing more Marsala, until Roberto told us they don't put any in so that children can eat it too, and he has great memories of his mother making an alcohol free one for him and his siblings when they were small - it's hard to argue with that.
What about the drinks?
It's rare (although thankfully less so) to find restaurants in Dublin that think about their wine list as carefully as their food, and this is one of those places. Everything is Italian and most are organic, and the mark ups are on the low side in comparison to most places in the city which makes it pretty good value. We were recommended a red Cirò, one of Calabria's most famous wines made from the Gaglioppo grape, which was a bit like Nebbiolo - light and fresh but with good structure and soft tannins - and it was a perfect match for all of the tomatoes and cheese. They don't have dessert wines on the menu but they do have them so ask, and a white (or more like orange) one made from the grape Zibibbo (Muscat) was particularly good.
And the service?
Roberto is the ultimate host, and constantly has an eye on everybody whilst never being obtrusive. He happily doled out recommendations over the evening, all of which were spot on, and all around us echoed 'Ciao!' and 'Buona sera!' as customers (a lot of whom were Italian) came and left. All of the staff were lovely, and the whole place had a really laid back, neighbourhood vibe.
We were trying not to get our hopes up about Grano in case our instinct about it was wrong, but we can happily tell you it's as good as (if not better than) we hoped. Almost overnight this has become the place to go in Dublin for rustic Italian cooking and homemade pasta, and if they can keep these standards up it's going to be somewhere you'll need to book well in advance. We're always a bit wary when we hear a restaurant is importing all of their ingredients from another country, when we have so much fantastic produce on our door step, but it's really difficult to argue with food that tastes this good, and we've never tasted an Irish tomato with Calabrian flavour. We've already booked to go back.