Pala Pizza and Trattoria
A Foxrock trattoria better than plenty in Rome
What's the story?
Back in early 2020, just a couple of weeks before Covid entered our lives, we told you about chef Rory Shannon, who had returned home from cooking in London and taken over the stoves at his family restaurant Bistro One in Foxrock, shaking things up in the process. We knew he was plotting his own restaurant, but a pandemic has a way of ruining best laid plans.
The family has a long connection with Italy and a house out there (they even make their own olive oil), and during one of the many lockdowns, Shannon Jnr started Pala Pizza, as a way to make clever use of a few parking spaces outside the upstairs restaurant. He is shamelessly obsessed with Roman-style, crispy, topped pizza slices, and wanted to bring something new and different to the pizza scene here. The result was one that we and plenty of others became shamelessly obsessed with.
Despite Pala's success, we still thought Shannon would hold out for a city centre site of his own, but in June the family announced that after 30 years Bistro One would close, and the next in line to the throne would open Pala Pizza & Trattoria in its place. A trattoria? In South County Dublin? It's the kind of word mediocre suburban restaurants insultingly throw around, like 'tapas', and 'fresh fish', but this wasn't any two-bit chef with a dream and an ill-advised investor. We were quietly confident that this was going to be one of the most needed, wanted and affirmative openings of 2022. Not to mention something genuinely fresh for the city.
Where should we sit?
The dining room has been transformed from its Bistro One days (see here for a throwback), and is all muted greens, soft lighting and dark wood. It's bright and inviting without being cold, and there's plenty of space - something parents of children who can't sit still will be appreciative of.
There are two main rooms, the main one and a small one at the back, which would be ideal to take over as a group or for a family gathering and have what feels like your own private space.
What's the menu like?
Trattoria by name, trattoria by nature, Shannon Jnr's ticking all the right boxes with this one. Antipasti, pasta, pizza, secondi, deep-fried parcels of deliciousness (otherwise known as suppli and macaroni rimasto) - it all feels so simple, yet bizarrely rarely seen here at this inviting a level.
What did you eat?
Shannon's been curing his own meat for months and it's clearly a huge passion project, so that's a no brainer/while you wait must-order. They range from €4 - €6 a plate and both the Finocchiona and Mortadella tasted straight outta Bologna. Do not pass on the pickled vegetables and olives - they're electric with tang and heat.
Of the deep-fried options we went with the lesser spotted Macaroni Rimasto (which means 'remaining') - deep fried macaroni in a cheesy bechamel with odds and ends of salumi, fried in panko and sitting on top of a vivid, herby, lemony salsa verde,. As deep-fried pasta goes, it's unexpectedly balanced, and expectedly delicious.
Filled focaccia is another menu anchor, and we'd seen (and wanted) the Dexter beef ragu one when it was paraded on the gram. At first we thought they must have had trouble with the dough rising as it was missing the bready bubbles we associate with focaccia, but thinner and crispier seems to be the style here, and it works. The sound of the bread snapping against the rich ragu now sits among our favourite dinner soundtracks of 2022.
Pastas are priced between €12 and €15 and they are not big portions., so you will likely need to order a few different ones to share, or just a load of antipasti/pizza to go alongside it. We tried the Tordelli Lucchesi (meat filled ravioli) which has the unmistakeable taste and texture of freshly made, but needed a touch more salt in the sauce.
We also had the Carbonara which was silky and rich and heavy on the black pepper, with perfectly crisp guanciale dotted throughout.
The pizza slices Pala initially became known for are of course on the menu here, ranging from €2.50 for a basic slice up to €6 for more expensive toppings, like burrata, smoked bacon and Cais na Tire Sheeps' cheese. Our 'Finocchiona' with fennel and black pepper salami and marinated artichokes, and our Anchovy & Whipped Ricotta with Kalamata olives were such perfect pieces of crisp, flavour-laden food that we've spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about them since. How far in advance is the dough cooked? Is it reheated before toppings are put on? In the oven? For how long? How, how, how?
There are four 'Secondi' type dishes too - bone-in prime rib, organic chicken with potatoes, whole sea bream on the bone and osso bucco, and we would have loved to try every one of them, but every stomach has its limits.
Pala keeps it simple when it comes to dessert with tiramisu, and a deep-fried apple and cinnamon calzone. The Tiramisu is thinner than most we've encountered, but in no way suffers on flavour, and it's easily one of the best we've had.
The deep-fried apple calzone with caramel sauce is the show-stopper (like a McDonalds apple pie if it was worth eating), and while you may think "€14 for flour and apples?", this is a dessert to share with a minimum of two, if not more. If you can tackle the whole thing yourself you're made of stronger stuff than we are. It's so rich and so OTT and yes, so very good.
What about the drinks?
A clear level up from your average trattoria, with plenty of bottles on the walls we would be very happy drinking. There's a nice selection of natural if you're a fan (we are) and everything's Italian, as it should be.
There's also an aperitivo/digestif menu that's practically winking at you, and we can vouch for the Negroni Sbagliato.
And the service?
Servers were all young, friendly and perfectly proficient, and despite it being opening weekend and packed from one side to the other, things seemed (from outside anyway) to be running very smoothly. It's a casual place so they won't be hanging around your table and you may have to wave to get someone's attention, but when they come over smiling and upbeat you really don't mind.
Anything else we should know?
At 18:00 on Sunday it was packed with families, everything from newborns on the floor in car seats to teenagers fresh from the sportsfield. There was breast-feeding, there were toddlers shouting for food, there was laughter and animated chat and parents so happy to be dining out as a family eating food this good - it was all so Italian.
Apparently they had a complaint over the weekend about the amount of children eating there. If you don't want children to be part of your dining experience you can eat out after 8pm when they're all in bed. Pala has Italian sensibilities running through every ounce of it, and that clearly includes catering for all ages.
What was the damage?
We spent around €40 a head before tip (including a drink and a half), and for the food and drinks we had there were zero complaints.
What's the Pala Pizza & Trattoria verdict?
If you haven't already gathered, we loved it. We wish every Dublin post code came with a Roman Trattoria so good you'll eat better here than in many places in Rome, but that's unlikely to happen outside of our food fantasy land, so this is somewhere we see ourselves travelling to regularly. And we're bringing the whole family with us.
Pala Pizza & Trattoria
3 Brighton Road, Foxrock, Co. Dublin