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11th Mar 2024

2024, year of the carbonara? A glance at the cheesy obsession gripping Dublin

Fiona Frawley

carbonara obsession dublin

No one let the Italians see this.

With the rise of Foodtok and easily accessible cook-a-long videos flooding the various social media platforms, it’s easier to observe food trends as they blossom and grow via our miniature pocket screens as well as IRL. If the past few months are anything to go by, one overriding theme is ever-prevalent – comfort. Times are hard, uncertainty looms and none of us have the mental capacity to think about much beyond our go-to deli order, so it makes sense that when we go out to eat, we’re looking for warm, familiar dishes that we know won’t let us down, in any form we can get them. Carbonara arancini? We’ll take it. Cacio e pepe dip? Hook it, as the kids say, to my veins. Lasagne sheets torn up into a bit of beef stock and labelled lasagne soup? I’ll take three vats, baby. 

In terms of comfort, there aren’t many dishes that rank higher than a cheesy, salty carbonara. Ireland’s relationship with this traditional Italian dish has refined itself in recent years – gone are the days of stodgy Dolmio jars of pre-made sauce or the pub grub insistence upon adding unseasoned chicken slices to the creamy mix (we understand the error of our ways, and we’re sorry).

@darrenconwayyy Will ye make me a carbonara? #ireland #fyp #dublin #foryou #irish #carbonara ♬ original sound – Darren Conway

A global lockdown and the closure of all of Ireland’s restaurants, cafés and bars meant time at home for us all to perfect our own carbonara methods, with the likes of Guy Sinnott and Donal Skehan gently holding our hands (digitally, of course – that kind of contact wasn’t allowed at the time) and guiding us through the non-negotiables – use guanciale, not pancetta. Keep that double cream away from the pot – the sauce is achieved using silky egg yolks and finely grated pecorino romano. Add your eggs to your pasta off the heat – we all know the heartbreak of seeing a curd of scrambled egg nestled between your salty lardons, a blobby punishment for not trusting the process. 

Gnocchi carbonara from Sprezzatura, image via Instagram/sprezzaturadublin.

Now, post-pandemic, the carbonara love continues. There’s been a new influx of pasta joints around town with the likes of Sprezzatura and Appertivo all ensuring there’s some version of the dish on the menu at all times. Outside of the pasta world, carbonara continues to crop up in new, inventive ways. Now that Dublin has perfected the traditional method, chefs are free to play around with form – the eggs are still there, they’re just cured and grated on top of a pizza. Instead of straddling spaghetti, carbonara is served up in a ramekin, to be dunked into with crusty bread.

Two of the most hotly anticipated openers of 2023 – Kicky’s, the Mediterranean-inspired venture by Richie Barrett and Eric Matthews and Mani, the food truck-turned brick-and-mortar bringing Roman style pizza to Drury Street both have their own variations. The offering at Kicky’s is a whipped carbonara butter, with salty nuggets of guanciale jutting out of the mass like ewes on a West Cork mountain, with a warm potato focaccia on the side for dunking. Atop Mani’s signature bubbly crust lays a mix of pancetta and guanciale, pecorino romano and a rich egg yolk drizzle. Both are among the respective restaurant’s most easily identifiable dishes and apart from Dublin’s vegan cohort, you’d be hard pressed to find someone willing to leave any sort of iteration of a carbonara appearing on a menu behind.

Carbonara butter from Kicky’s, image by Emily Mullen for Lovin’ Dublin. 

 Carbonara slice from Mani, image via Instagram/

So what’s the obsession? Besides the obvious appeal of a cheese/ham/pasta combo, there seems to be a nationwide appetite for comfort and familiarity at the moment – we spent the 2010s being adventurous (by Irish standards) with flavours, pummelling avocados and lashing gochujang and nduja onto everything that moved. Now, a need to return to the basics grips us – just like Sydney’s viral omelette in the penultimate episode of The Bear season 2, what the people want is classics done well. We crave simple recipes with minimal components, caring more about good quality ingredients rather than ones that sound impressive when you rattle them off to your mates. Gone is the need to impress – it’s replaced by an overriding need to simply feel okay. Instagrammable brunch dishes have made way for old reliable roast dinners, oat milk is in its flop era and there’s a newfound appreciation for the incredible produce to be found on Irish soil.

Totally Italia pizza from Rascal’s, Inchicore, with creamy pecorino base and cured egg yolk. Image via Instagram/rascalsbrewing. 

It’s well known that the comments section of any video showcasing a carbonara dish or recipe is a guaranteed blood bath, with furious Italians and those wishing they were Italian passionately rebuking any departure away from tradition. For a while, there was an understandable reluctance to even bother trying, but that reluctance seems to now have been replaced with disclaimers of “I know this isn’t an authentic carbonara, don’t come for me, this is just how I like it”. In recent months I’ve seen plant based carbonara tutorials with sauce made using puréed courgette, and a carbonara udon dish in Tokyo with raw egg yolk on the side to be mixed and emulsified by whoever’s brave enough to order it. There seems to be less of a fear of being wrong, and more of an impetus to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks – the world’s burning anyway, why not let people use carbonara as baked potato filling if that’s what they want? 

Pretension is out, simplicity and people feeling safe to broadcast their own personal interpretations of said simplicity is in. Or maybe I’m just in my 30s now and projecting.

Header images via Lovin Dublin/sprezzaturadublin


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