Join the queue for perfect pizza to perk up the New Year
9 Jan 2024
What's the story with Mani?
If you haven't already heard of Drury Street's latest pizza slice shop, you must have been on an enforced social media blackout for the last few months, because Mani has been everywhere (and that's going to continue for the foreseeable future).
Owner Ciaran McGonagle used to work for Coppinger Row, before founding Catch Events, and later setting up food truck Ciao Cannoli. At some point an obsession with Roman-style pizza al taglio took hold, and realising it wasn't readily available in Ireland, he decided he was the man to bring it. He spent a year mastering the dough from Italians in the know, then went to Ballymaloe for their famous 12-week course to focus on the rest.
He tested the water with a food truck which popped up at various locations like Clontarf, Dublin Castle and the House of Peroni, but when Blazing Salads vacated the Drury Street premises they'd been in for 23 years, McGonagle got lucky with a lease. As luck would have it, chef Rory Shannon, who'd recently wrapped up Pala Pizza and Trattoria in Foxrock in search of somewhere more central, was available for hire, and these two Roman pizza nerds came together in a solid case of all the stars aligning.
Are there seats?
Yes but they're limited to eight stools inside (five facing out onto Drury Street with glorious people watching opportunities) and picnic benches outside. Some are covered, but we imagine all will be eventually, because you know, Ireland.
What's on the menu?
Pizza slices, dips, panini, and a few fried bits (Fritti) which are a Shannon specialty. Sadly the fritti weren't available on the day we visited, but we've had his suppli and oogled his lasagne fritti online so we feel confident reccomending them even without having tasted them.
Of the five pizzas available on the day we visited, three were vegetarian and one vegan, so plenty of options for any non meat-eaters in your life. There's also a vegan panini with melanzane parmigiana, as well as porchetta and mortadella options.
You'll be able to eye up the slices up in the display window before making your choice, although you might feel frazzled if there's a queue and not feel comfortable leaving it for a browse. The staff then whisk it off to be reheated in the oven and give you a buzzer that goes off when it's ready. Fear not, this is how many slice shops in Italy operate, and nothing is lost with the pre-cook, reheat later method. Because of the high hydration, the dough gets even crispier after a second trip to the oven.
The margherita (€6.50) is always the first test of any good pizza place, and Mani's comes with homemade tomato sauce, Toonsbridge Fior di Latte, stracciatella, basil and EVOO.
Whether you've had Roman style pizza before or not, the base here with its 80% hydration and three-day fermentation before baking will knock you sideways - so light while losing nothing in texture, so crisp without being dry or hard. Sweatshop levels of exertion have gone into this dough preparation and cook, and you can taste it as soon as it hits your mouth. Toppings were perfectly judged, with bright tomato under an oozing double cheese combo.
The Carbonara slice (€8.50) is what catapulted Mani from fondly-thought-of food truck to social media superstar, and it's an eye-catcher, with pancetta, guanciale, Pecorino Romano, Toonsbridge Fior di Latte, black pepper, and a generous coating of free-range egg yolk over the top (we're dying to know what happens to all of the egg whites, maybe there's a pavlova spin off in the works).
The toppings here outweigh any saintly lightness from the base, but the carbonara flavours are all there and then some. Too many pizza places can be tight with the toppings, but shouldn't be any complaints about that here. Wall to wall pancetta, cheese and egg yolk will make the masses happy, but the richness factor is high so we wouldn't plan on eating much more if you're having a whole one.
We didn't realise the potato slice (€6.50) was vegan until after we'd eaten it, the cream di nocciola bringing a creamy, nutty, sweetness that deftly disguised the lack of cheese. Irish rooster potatoes are sliced wafer thin, and it's topped with cress for added freshness.
The other meat option is the salsiccia (€7.50), with housemade fennel sausage, vodka sauce, fior di latte, pink onions, salsa verde and Pecorino Romano. The salsa verde is a clever touch, bringing a lemony freshness to a meaty, cheesy slice, and like everything else in here is beautifully balanced.
Of the four dips (€2 each) we tried three - garlic sauce, hot chilli and honey, and cacio e pepe. We would heartily reccomend all of them (the garlic is perfection), but the Carbonara slice dipped in the cacio e pepe sauce is an OTT trip that cheese lovers won't be forgetting any time soon.
Panini (€10.50 - €11.50) are no relation to the ultra-processed bread pox that landed in Dublin some time in the last century (and are still readily available in delis and bad pubs across the country). These have the same light, ultra-crisp dough as the pizzas, baked into sandwich form, sliced through the centre and stuffed with fillings like porchetta and cheesy aubergine. When we heard the mortadella option came with pistachio cream, curiosity got the better of us, and of all the things we ate that day, this is one we've been reliving daily. The mild, porky, slightly smoky flavour up against the slightly sweet, pesto-like sauce sounds so wrong, but tastes so incredible.
Owner McGonagle's other business Ciao Cannoli plays a supporting role here, with Nutella, classico and pistachio options (€5.50 each) all made to order. We've had these several times and they're always pitch perfect, but these felt a bit smaller than what we've had in the past so we wouldn't share between any more than two (if you're feeling generous).
What about drinks?
They're basic but do the job, with a very drinkable organic Nero D'Avola by the glass (€8) or bottle (€45) and a Gavi for white (same prices). Beers are Ichnusa (or Peroni 0.0) and they have soft drinks too.
How was the service?
Pleasant but perfunctory. You place your order at the till, pay and take a seat with your buzzer. Once your order is ready you go up to collect it. Just prepare to feel slightly stressed if you have questions about the menu and there's a snaking queue behind you - there's only one till and hungry people are easily irritated.
What was the damage?
€60 for more than enough to feed three - we took leftovers home but could have been greedier and finished the lot.
What's the verdict on Mani?
We wanted to like Mani, but we LOVED it. McGonagle has cut zero corners, determined to get the Roman specialty just right for a clearly appreciative Irish audience, and having Shannon for start-up support makes Mani a powerhouse.
We think Shannon has grander Trattoria-style plans down the line, but if the temperaments work, we think these two could have an imressive run of restaurants in them. God knows it's easier having a business partner than going it alone, especially when you operate with the same fervour and work ethic to attain a perfect product every time.
With appetites (and wallets) for premium-priced dining experiences dropping by the day, we think it's ultra-accessible, ultra-delicious places like Mani that are going to soar in 2024.