Why aren't more people shouting about Amuri? We'll start...
What's the story?
Brothers Andrea and Luca Licciardello are from Sicily but have lived and worked in Dublin for over a decade, in various bars and restaurants around town. Opening their own Sicilian restaurant together was always a dream, and it was Covid that handed them the opportunity.
They had started a side hustle, importing Sicilian wines into Ireland made by Luca and a friend in Sicily (called GioVinotto), and through this got to know the owners of wine shops including The Corkscrew on Chatham Street. Their upstairs tasting room had lain idle during the pandemic, and they were wondering what to do with it, until a conversation with the brothers sparked the idea that maybe they could take it over.
The sleekly designed room with its juniper green walls, wood panelling and hanging lights just needed some brightly coloured art-work, cheerful Sicilian cloths, and kitsch Italian ornamets added to the glass cases, and it felt like it was Amuri's all along (which was a good thing because the brothers say they had to spend all of their savings along with loans from family and friends just to get the doors open).
When it came to the menu, neither of the brothers is a trained chef but say they "know their food" and knew what they wanted to serve, so they employed a chef consultant from Sicily to help with the opening menu, then hired a head chef (originally from Brazil) and sent him to Sicily for two months. One final call to Granny to get her approval on the dishes and recipes and they opened in May 2022.
Amuri have had some good reviews (including in the Irish Times and the Sunday Times) but has never really exploded as one of the city's most wanted bookings. Despite this their online reviews from customers are off the charts, so we thought it was time we paid them a visit.
Where should we sit?
If you've never seen The Corkscrew's tasting room you'd probably think "wow, these guys must have some serious backers behind them to knock out a room like this", but most of it was here already. Despite this it just fits, feeling fresh and modern, but still homely and warm.
The main dining room is where the buzz is, with two window tables offering views out onto Chatham Street (although currently you're looking at a building site that will be the European Commission's headquarters at some point). As well as regular tables there are two high tables for two, and additional tables in another smaller section that you'll walk through on entering, and is marginally quieter if you'd like less animated chatter all around.
What did you eat?
This is a perfectly sized menu in our book, with five starters, four pastas and a risotto, and three meat and fish options. There are daily specials too so make sure you ask. Currently the lunch menu is the same as the dinner one, but they are introducing an express, less expensive option soon, which we think will make a huge difference to their lunch trade.
We ended up here twice in the space of three days, as we couldn't stop thinking about our first visit, so managed to get through quite a bit of the menu.
They start (as all good restaurants do) by bring you bread and their own imported olive oil - it's the good stuff. We got foccacia at lunch and sourdough at dinner, and it wasn't obvious if either were homemade, but they filled the hunger gap nicely until the starters.
Then, the caponata. Oh the caponata. Close your eyes and you're sitting on the edge of Scopello's natural park, the sun beating down on your face, each forkful more sweet, sour and sunkissed than the last. Aubergine, shallots, peppers, pine nuts, Modica chocolate and some grated ricotta salata (a hard, pressed ricotta) - this dish is pretty much single-handedly responsible for us going back twice in three days, so desperate we were to taste it again.
Arancino (an oval version of arancini) is the street food that no self-respecting Sicilian restaurant would leave off their menu, and the one here comes with saffron-scented rice, stuffed with ham and mozzarella, with a ring of burrata fondue for mopping. Crisp, creamy and well-seasoned, you couldn't ask for more from the tear-drop shaped, deep-fried snack.
The last starter we tried was the (clearly handmade) tortellini with lamb, broccoli, spinach and shimeji mushrooms. If it sounded insipid by description, it was anything but on the plate. The chewy pasta was toppling over with lamb flavour (we wondered if it was cooked in the stock), with the vegetables and sauce the right combination of salt and acid, with some kind of vinegar, to cut through the pasta and meat, and more of that stellar olive oil. Critics complain a lot about food being under or over seasoned - in here they seem to have it down to a fine art.
Of the four pastas, the 'Pasta alle sarde' with sardines, anchovies, fennel, saffron, onions, pickled raisins and breadcrumbs send us flying back to a little Sicilian guesthouse we once stayed in, where the owners' husband fished each morning, and she cooked what he caught. We thought that was the best iteration of this dish we would ever taste, but this one's even better. If you don't order it you'll smell it being carried to other tables and just have regret. Don't have regret.
The risotto when we visited was with sun-dried tomatoes, topped with burrata cream and what we think was basil oil, and it's in these simple dishes that the quality of their sunshine-filled, mainly imported ingredients really shouts out.
The other pasta we had to order for sheer uniqueness was the 'Caserecce crema di pistachio', with pistachio sauce and guanciale. We half thought this might be some kind of gimick for the 'gram, but oh were we wrong. Despite the cream in the name, there's no cream in here. Instead it's made with cheese (usually Robiola and Parmesan), water, olive oil and nuts, with some expertly rendered, crispy, chewy pieces of guanciale scattered throughout, that every so often pop in your mouth. Joy.
Fish options when we visited were halibut (the catch of the day) and sea bream (which was actually sea bass that day), and despite the latter not offering much in the interest stakes, we were drawn in by the fennel, courgette and 'Amuri dressing' (capers, olives and shallots) accompaniments. We had blinked at the prices of €33 and €34 for fish but this was actually a whole fish, stuffed with fish mousse, and would probably be too much for some people. It also came with those €6 roast potatoes with rosemary (more below), which you'll need to order anyway, so take that off.
The flavours were deftly Meditteranean with the fish perfectly cooked and still juicy, but we lost interest half way through and it needed more of that salty Amuri dressing. Saying that we all know people who love nothing more than a big hunk of fish for dinner - this is for them.
And now the other reason we went running back two days after first visiting. The potatoes. We probably don't even need to talk about these, the pictures surely tell the story, but in case you're in any doubt - fluffy insides, outsides so crispy you'll study them asking "how?", rosemary scented and a generous hand with the salt. This is potato perfection.
On our second visit they weren't quite as burnished, so there's a little bit of inconsistency here, but they were still in the top tier of potato sides, Ask for the really, really well done ones if you can.
The other side we tried was the tomato, red onion and ricotta salata salad, and these tomatoes clearly didn't grow up on our shores. We asked where they were buying them from, expecting them to name some Italian food importer. Turns out they're walking down to Fallon & Byrne every day because they need such small quantities and "they have the best". That's committment to the cause. The red onion is more sweet than astringent, that olive oil is in good use again, and the ricotta salata is the creamy, salty, icing on the cake.
There are three desserts on the menu, the moka pot tiramisu you've probably seen online, cannoli, and the third one might be a chocolate or lemon mousse. Yes the moka pot is a bit of a gimmick, but it's actually the perfect serving size for one, and this is an excellent, nicely boozy tiramisu.
A cold lemon mousse came wrapped in white chocolate with confit lemon and meringue, and was a fresher ending if your palate needs wakening up again - although the complimentary limoncello with the bill will do that too.
What about the drinks?
The drinks list only has wine and after-dinner drinks on there, but they do cocktail specials so be sure to ask if you're told not about them. We loved their take on a Sicilian negroni with Zibbibo white wine instead of Vermouth, and a non-alcoholic option was concocted on request with lemon juice, strawberry purée, egg white and more. As NA options go this was a good one.
The wine list is really lacking in by the glass options, with only three whites and three reds by the glass (and two of each are their own imports). We tried their Giovinotto Zibibbo and Frappato and didn't find either overly interesting. There are some Sicilian crackers by the bottle though, like Tenuta delle Terre Nere's Etna Bianco, and COS's Vittoria Rosso, so that's the way to go for us.
How was the service?
Everyone working here was Italian, which really adds to the "I'm on holiday" feeling. The two brothers work the room, welcoming regulars and chatting with new faces, and there's a jovial atmosphere that just seems to spread from table to table. It's all so very Sicilian, and hard not to get swept up in.
What was the damage?
A three-course meal for two with four drinks came to €155, which felt like really good value, both for what we ate, and among the current state of pricing in the city.
What's the verdict?
Why aren't more people shouting about Amuri? Maybe it's because they've managed to continuously improve since opening, and it's more of a slow burn than an initial flash in the PR pan. Either way we felt like we'd been let in on a city centre secret last week, that regulars would be very happy to keep to themselves. So to them, we say sorry.
And some more good news. Later this year The Corkscrew will move to a new location beside The Westbury, and Amuri will take over downstairs too, turning it into a more casual place for Sicilian street food. We'll be first in the queue.
4 Chatham Street, Dublin 2