Sherry, stracciatella and a feast of meat
What’s the story?
Unarguably one of the most talked about restaurants in Dublin since opening in 2013, Etto was a ray of light in a recession ravaged city and led the way for the other young, dynamic openings that followed. Run by partners Liz and Simon, the menu is part-Italian, part-Irish with a stellar wine list which includes sherry and three wines on tap. There are only 38 seats, so reservations (especially at the weekend) are essential. With the couple due to open their second restaurant ‘Uno Mas’ later this year, we thought it was time to revisit one of the game-changers on the Dublin restaurant scene.
Where’s good for a drink beforehand?
There’s a strong argument for going straight to Etto and getting stuck into their sherry or prosecco on tap, but if you’d rather a change of scene we’d suggest La Cave on South Anne Street for the best value glass of fizz in the city (€8.95 for proper Crémant de Bourgogne), or for cocktails try Peruke and Periwig. If it’s a pint you’re after you won’t do much better than O’Donoghues which is just a few doors down. There’s a very good chance you’ll stumble on a trad session.
What’s the room like?
Cosy, bistro like space with white walls, dark wood and candles. Always a nice hum of conversation but never so loud that you can’t hear your dining companions. Has that intimate feeling that’s perfect for dates or a catch up with friends.
What's good to eat?
In a word? Everything. We’re not sure if there’s ever been a dud dish served in Etto. Go hungry because you’ll want to start with the snacks. Smoked almonds and fino should run away and get married. The bright green olives and hake and morcilla croquettes were perfect, flavour packed pre-appetisers.
For starters, the sea bream crudo with blood orange and rosemary oil is a stalwart of the menu for good reason. Light, fresh and bursting with flavour, it feels like you’re doing your body a favour by eating it. Smoky eel wrapped in salt-baked kohlrabi, up against tart granny smith and horseradish managed to convince a lifelong eel-avoider what she’s been missing out on.
The one we’re still dreaming about is the stracciatella, celeriac, truffle honey, hazelnut and lovage. Gooey cheese above a pesto-like lovage sauce, with crunchy hazelnuts, smooth peelings of celeriac and umami sweetness from the truffle honey.
For mains, the Côte de Bœuf has to be experienced at least once. It's a total feast of delicious, perfectly cooked meat and would easily feed three. Crispy garlic potatoes and the richest béarnaise sauce will finish you off.
Vegetables are no less impressive - the roast onion squash risotto with chanterelles and tallegio lasted approximately 20 seconds while spoons clattered together scraping the plate clean. A side of hispi cabbage with buckwheat and mustard sauce was one of the most delicious incarnations of cabbage that we’ve tasted. It’s official – chargrilling anything makes it approximately 10 times tastier.
Desserts don't let the side down either, and their signature red wine prunes with vanilla mascarpone is another dish that needs to be tried at least once. We also attacked the warm chocolate mousse with walnut ice cream and Campari like jackals.
What about the wine?
The wine list is great and although it was a slow build, they’re finally getting recognition for it and having customers order their more unusual bottles. These guys love sherry and they’ve converted many of their customers into loving it too. The combination of Equipo Navazos Fino and smoked almonds is a great start to a night out. There are three wines on tap from innovative wine importer Wine Lab (whose motto is #nocrapontap), a prosecco, a friulano (Italian white) and a refosco (Italian red). All really solid wines and great value at €6.50 for still and €7 for sparkling.
The main wine list is Italian/European heavy and has so many great names on there that choosing is the difficult part, but the lovely staff are always ready to make recommendations. We had a rich, flavour-filled verdicchio from Italian producer Fattoria San Lorenzo (€44) which did a great job of standing up to the many flavours in our starters, and a juicy, slightly savoury Zweigelt from Austrian producer Claus Preisinger (€45), which we were worried might be a bit light for the Côte de Bœuf, but in reality was a perfect match for the juiciness of the medium-rare beef. We finished with a Madeira from legends Barbeito (€10.95) and a Spanish sweet wine from Bodega Bentomiz (€9.95), which were perfect examples of why sweet wine shouldn’t be a sickly, cloying end to a meal.
And the service?
Unfailingly excellent. Hospitality is a hard industry to recruit for so finding consistently great staff like these is not something to brush over. Staff are attentive but unobtrusive, happy to recommend without being pushy, knowing when to come over and when to leave you alone. And they come across as really nice people who like what they're a part of.
There’s a reason why Etto is so loved, particularly by those in the food and wine trade. These guys are doing everything right. The food is uncompromisingly great, the wine list is dying for exploration, and the staff go over and above to make customers feel taken care of. If you haven’t been yet we strongly recommend rectifying that at the first available opportunity. We are counting the days until 'Uno Mas' is abierto.
18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2