Handmade pasta with an Irish accent
14 Jan 2020
What’s the story?
The story of a new handmade pasta place coming to Dublin in October, where no plate would cost over €10, and practically all the produce was Irish, was our second most read story of 2019, and we can't say we were surprised. There's actually quite a bit of fresh pasta to be found in Dublin (which we proved here), but nothing in the fast, cheap, good (and exciting) category, so there was clearly a gap for a Padella-style operation here - and every Irish person who's ever set foot in London comes home talking about Padella so we were clearly primed and ready for it - see here for why.
Sprezzatura say they're making Italian food with the best Irish ingredients - their suppliers list reads like a who's who of Irish food - and with their commitment to sustainability including no paper on site, compostable packaging and renewable energy, we're not sure it's possible to be any more tuned into the zeitgeist.
The man with the plan was Thom Lawson, formerly of Lucky Tortoise, who split with his business partners at the end of last year to focus on new projects. He's known as someone who like a concept and is good at executing them - and we know he has a few other ideas up his sleeve so watch this space. He joined forces with the guys at Grantham's who had the space and Sprezzatura was born.
They got off to a rocky start (not that you would have know by the amount of 'influencers' and celebrities coming through the doors), and an initial visit left us disappointed, but after a change up in the kitchen and some new chef talent (one of whom was formerly at Forest Avenue), things were looking up. Reports seem to be getting better every week, particularly when it came to value for money, so we thought a few follow up visits were in order.
Where should we go for a drink first?
Around here your options are endless. For a pre-dinner cocktail head to the Sitting Room above Delahunt for a Cognac and orange or a pisco lemonade, and for wine the excellent First Draft is a 5 minute walk away. For a pint head to Devitt's down the street, or if you like your pubs a bit cosier try Bourke's next to Whelan's where getting a seat at the weekend feels like winning the Euromillions. Bonus: you can get through to Whelan's at the back if you fancy a quick dance before or after dinner - there will be many carbs to burn off.
Where should we sit?
The large communal table at the front seats up to 20 but is reserved for walk-ins (it's worth asking if you have a group though), and is a great place to sit if you're not concerned about private conversation or personal space. You can also have a drink here before moving into the main room, which has tables for two and four, as well as some booths which would fit six at a squeeze.
What's good to eat?
The beauty of Sprezzatura is that it's all such good value, with no plate costing over €10, so there's a strong justification to over order - and you can take any leftovers home in a planet-friendly cardboard box. The regularly changing menu is divided into plates and pastas, with the former consisting of small plates, cured meat and fish crudo. Castelvetrano olives to start are the real deal - bright green, grassy, juicy - and the potato focaccia from Bread 41 arrives in a pool of rapeseed oil. The bread is pillowy and chewy in all the right ways, but rapeseed oil is not not olive oil and never will be - we appreciate the ethos of using Irish though.
The lamb shank croquette is a must, and at €3.50 it would be rude not to. The flavours are rich and deep, the meat thready and soft, and it's all wrapped up in a crunchy coating. You can taste the time that went into making them. We stupidly never asked what was in the accompanying mayonnaise dip, but it tasted mildly of mustard. A plate of Toonsbridge stracciatella was decent moppage material for the focaccia, but if your reference point for the Italian soft cheese is the original, generously topped with olive oil, this may seem a little anaemic in comparison, with a lack of the typical stretchy, stringy consistency.
Another place of 'fish nduja brandade' (fish not specified) was punchier with salt and mild heat from the nduja, and a nice touch of fine, toasted breadcrumbs on top. You will definitely want bread for both this and the cheese.
There's six or seven homemade pastas on at any one time, and they change regularly, but the tomato and basil, bolognese and cacio pepe with rotating pastas look to be permanent fixtures. We tried the cacio e pepe with pappardelle and spaghetti on separate occasions and thought the spaghetti won hands down. The sauce seemed to congeal to the larger sheets of pasta quicker, whereas with the spaghetti it was still possible to twist and swish the pasta around the plate towards the end. Again this is made with Irish cheese instead of Italian Pecorino so it's not by the book, but it's very good.
Another highlight was the tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, which was a perfect plate of simple ingredients coming together beautifully. The pasta was al dente, the mushrooms buttery and the thyme and cheese brought it all together.
We really enjoyed the gnocchi too, which came with chorizo, ricotta and pine nuts on the night we were there. It's light and fluffy as opposed to stodgy, and there was a really nice balance between the creamy cheese, spicy chorizo and crunchy pinenuts.
The only dish we weren't crazy about was the ricotta and nduja tyres, which when we had it was head-blowingly spicy, and generally unbalanced, but that was on visit two so they may have tweaked the recipe by now.
The only dessert option is a 'popcorn panna cotta', and while it's a very loose interpretation of a panna cotta (the lack of any gelatinous consistency made it more similar to a crème brûlée without the crispy top) it is very good, with a salty caramel layer above set cream, and fresh salty popcorn on top. Even the initially suspicious were using their spoons to scrape the last bits from the side of the cup. It's a simple, sweet, satisfying end, and at €3.50 you may as well try it.
What about the drinks?
Sticking with their sustainability ethos, all cocktails, wine and beer are on tap, and their beautiful tap installation has been the subject of many, many social media posts at this stage. The Aperol Spritz is very good for an opener with some olives, but we felt the espresso martini was a bit watery - saying that it is €6 so hard to complain.
When it came to wine we particularly liked the lambrusco (dry, fizzy red) and the Les Tètes red from the Loire in France, which was juicy and vibrant and a perfect pairing for anything tomato based or with a hint of spice. Drinks, like the food, are very good value, with wines by the glass ranging from €6.50 to €9. They also have two beers, gin and tonic, vermouth and kefir.
And the service?
Over the course of three visits the young staff were friendly and helpful, and special mention to one smiling, charming staff member who served a large group of us on his first night and was the personification of hospitality, despite being petrified he would make a mistake or forget something. A case in point for hiring for personality and the ability to make your guests feel welcome above all else.
Over three visits to Sprezzatura it was better each time, which is a good sign that the only way is up. This certainly doesn't seem like a team that's sitting still, and every time we open Instagram they seem to be trying out to recipes and flavour combinations. It's not quite Padella London levels, but if they keep pushing they could get there yet.
5/6 Camden Market, Dublin 8 sprezzatura.ie