Osteria Lucio: Solid Italian Cooking Centred Around Quality Ingredients
Lisa Cope - 3rd October 2018
What’s the story?
Most people in the city know Ross Lewis as the chef-patron of Michelin-starred Chapter One, but not many seem to know that he has another restaurant - a modern Italian in Grand Canal Dock that he opened in 2015 with friend Luciano Tona, also a Michelin-starred chef, from Italy. The restaurant's blurb says that Osteria Lucio is in the style of cooking that Ross would do for family and friends (and we certainly wouldn't say no to dinner round his), and they had some very positive reviews under their belt early doors, but since then seem to just be quietly getting on with what they're doing.
For those of us not working or living in Grand Canal Dock, it can seem like a different world. It looks different, people dress different, it's very windy. There aren't a whole load of reasons to head that way (tickets for a show at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre or getting a job in Facebook seem to be the most common ones), but people kept telling us how good the food in Ross' 'other' restaurant was, so we braved the elements to check it out for ourselves.
Where should we go for a drink first?
There's not a whole pile on the doorstep, and the bar here is really lovely, with interesting wines and a nice aperitivi list, so we'd probably come straight here for a negroni or an aperol spritz. Otherwise you could have a plum and gingerbread daiquiri overlooking the water at Charlotte Quay, or take a short walk down to Beggar's Bush and have a pint in The Old Spot or The Bath Pub.
Where should we sit?
There are three distinct seating areas - the bar, high tables in the front opposite the bar, and the main room which is cosy and cavelike, and definitely the place to sit if you're looking to engage in intimate conversation. The front area with the bar is a bit buzzier, and great for small groups or lively catch ups, and the bar counter would be great for solo-dining or twosomes who like to chat to the bar staff.
What's good to eat?
We tried dishes from the pre-theatre (two courses for €25, three for €30) and á la carte menus and everything was very good. Nothing was over complicated, and it's clear they're using quality ingredients and not messing with them too much. Bruschetta on menus here usually has us yawning, but this one, with courgette pesto, tomatoes and olives on perfectly charred bread, was as good an example as we've had in ages. The same focus on quality produce was obvious in another starter of breasola with rocket, datterini tomatoes, pesto and parmesan, which was the perfect precursor to the carby mains.
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Gnocchi for mains (from the pre-theatre) was of the boiled, not fried variety, and practically melted in our mouths. It sat in a rich ragu of Irish lamb, with dollops of soft goat's cheese and fried parsley on top. The portion was huge, so much so that we took some home. Pizzas (also on the pre-theatre) are thin and crispy, and our Quattro Formaggi with smoked scarmorza, mozzarella, tallegio and gorgonzola was a cheese fiend's dream, our only complaint being that the blue tended to overpower everything else (as it does). Again this was a very generous portion, so come here hungry or prepare to take some home.
From the á la carte menu, we loved the Irish beef striploin with shaved cabbage, tomatoes, parmesan and herbs, and if you don't want to roll out in a carb coma this is an excellent choice. The meat was cooked and seasoned perfectly, a combination which is surprisingly hard to find, and this is the dish we've re-imagining eating most since our meal there. The only thing we didn't try was the handmade pasta, but we plan to rectify that very soon, and would be very confident the quality of ingredients would shine through like it did with everything else.
For dessert we had to go tiramisu (when in Rome), and it arrived with properly soaked sponge, creamy mascarpone with an espresso crumb and three chunky shards of milk, white and dark chocolate sticking out of it. Hard to think of a better ending to a really enjoyable meal.
What about the drinks?
As we mentioned earlier, they have a traditionally Italian aperitivi list, with the old reliables like aperol spritz, negronis and bellinis, and some other really interesting sounding cocktails, like 'The Grounds Garden', with vermouth bianco, dingle gin, saint germain, teapot bitters and prosecco. We'd quite like to slowly make our way through the whole list.
The wine list is all Italian and has clearly been put together with thought and care. There are no nasty brands, and enough recognisable small producers to provide immediate assurance about the general calibre on offer. We tried a Sicilian blend of Cataratto and Grillo which tasted like honeyed melon and was a really good match for both starters, as well as a Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, which was all red fruits and spice, and perfect with both the lamb gnocchi and the steak.
Another red, a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, from renowned organic/biodynamic wine producer Fattoria San Lorenzo, was one of those natural wines that makes you feel like you're doing your body a favour (trust us on this), and was full of cherries and funk. Everything was so reliably good that we'd be happy to close our eyes and see where our finger lands next time.
And the service?
Totally charming. Our Italian waiter was full of smiles and advice, letting us try wines before committing to a bottle and just providing one of those perfect service experiences where they're there when you want them and not when you don't. Everyone else who came near our table was equally lovely, and they came across as an experienced, confident operation.
This is a really solid, modern Italian where the fuss is left at the door, and the focus is on the ingredients. They're not shouting about what they're doing, and obviously don't need to. The place was packed on a Monday night, and a waitress told us it was actually quite chilled in comparison to other weeks. Dublin needs more restaurants like this with less jazz hands, and more quiet confidence that what they're offering is worth the trip to get there.