Risorante Romano: Old-school Italian
that's so satisfying
Lisa Cope - 18th April 2018
What’s the story?
Romano's has been on Capel Street (in its current form) since the 1980's, but you don't see much of it on social media, or hear it mentioned when people talk about the 'must-try' restaurants in Dublin. Until Tom Doorley reviewed it in the Daily Mail a few weeks ago we hadn't heard the name for a long time, but suddenly it seems to be having a revival, with people remembering how good it was. Armed with warnings that it might be more 'Irish-Italian' than nuanced Tuscan or Venetian, we went with empty stomachs, eager to taste some homemade egg pasta.
Where’s good for a drink beforehand?
Panti Bar is a few doors down if you feel like a Cosmopolitan and some Girls Aloud. For a pint, Slattery's, McNeill's or The Boar's Head are all good options on Capel Street. For wine your best bet is probably Bagots Hutton around the corner on Ormond Quay.
THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
What’s the room like?
There's a fine line between unattractively old-fashioned and quaint, and Romano's is on the right side of it. It feels like stepping into one of those family-run Tavernas off a square in a little Italian town, when you know the room is exactly as it was 30 years ago. Paper napkins, paper tablecloths, candles dripping with wax, an electric fan on the counter - it all just screams holidays, and you forgive a lot on holidays.
What's good to eat?
The menu is pretty simple, which in this case made things easier. Starters of bruschetta and garlic bread (that non-Italian favourite) were both excellent, the bruschetta toppings fresh and flavoursome, and the generous, oozing garlic bread, the most comforting thing we've eaten in ages (maybe not one for first dates).
Pasta is hand-made each day, and all three that we tried were hard to fault, with the fresh, perfectly chewy pasta the star of each dish. Spaghetti Bolognese was one of those rare examples that doesn't disappoint, the type you try to perfect at home by letting it simmer for 58 hours but it's still never quite as good as you wanted. This one is. Pasta Amatriciana with chilli and bacon was beautifully simple, with a really good tomato sauce, a generous amount of bacon and a perfectly balanced chilli kick.
The standout dish, the one that's calling us back, was the pasta with prawns, garlic and basil. A dish of few ingredients but bags of flavour. The kind of simple perfection you might expect for dinner if you went to the house of an Italian friend who takes their food seriously.
Pizza is the kind your Dad would like - thin and crispy with none of this sourdough, blistered-crust type nonsense. More Roman than Neapolitan, but there's definitely a place for thin-based pizza and the 'Romano's Special' was light, generous and highly enjoyable. There are places to go for more interesting toppings or fresh oregano rather than dried, but if you know what you're getting you won't be disappointed, because the food is just so satisfying. There's a bit of the Irish-Italian about it, but it reminded us of going to Italian restaurants as a child, being knocked out by the smell of garlic and thinking it was the best meal you'd ever had in your whole entire life and when can we go back please.
Guttingly, the Tiramisu had sold out by the time we got to dessert. When we got there the place was full of people taking advantage of the ridiculously good value early-bird (€14.95 for three courses), and they'd nabbed it all - at least we know it's made fresh every morning. We tried the pavlova with fresh fruit instead, which was fine if forgettable, and another retro childhood throwback. That could be one of the reasons why we felt so warm and content all night - memories of happy times.
What about the drinks?
The most expensive wine on the list is €23, and you can get a 500ml carafe of house for €10, but like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Neither of the two whites we tried (both Trebbiano) were up to much (make sure they are very chilled, it helps), and the red, a Chianto Classico, was fine with food, less so without. We all had headaches the next day, which after 3 glasses of wine is not a good sign, and usually results from drinking more industrially made, mass produced wines.
And the service?
Very pleasant, but basic - no-one's going to offer you a taste of the wine to make sure it's not faulty. Saying that, we're pretty sure that if you did have a complaint it would be whipped away quick-smart. Romano himself was on the floor taking orders, and every other staff member we encountered had nothing but smiles and a helpful demeanour. Time ran away with us towards the end of the night, but rather than asking us to leave they just started hoovering around us, which seemed to further reinforce the feeling of being in a little Italian town rather than on Capel Street.
This is simple, incredibly comforting Italian food. Wild boar and truffles it is not, and some parts of the menu may be designed to appeal to the Irish palate (garlic bread, we're looking at you) rather than focusing on authentic Italian cooking, but the pasta is faultless and the flavours are big. We might not be picking it for a special occasion meal, but for something inexpensive that feels like a giant hug it's a very solid choice. So much focus these days goes into new openings and new, young chefs on the scene. It's nice to find someone who's been quietly doing the same things day in day out for years, and doing a great job of it. Just make sure you get a piece of that tiramisu before the early birds nab it all.