I've never really liked food in Michelin starred or high end restaurants..
I mean, I can appreciate the technique, quality of the ingredients and the world class service but for me great food has always been peasant food; fish soups by the road in Thailand, cassoulet in France, a tagine in Morocco or a rogan josh in India. This is food made with love by people who have very little, and who demonstrate that only with scarcity comes the ultimate levels of creativity.
Of all the peasant foods one reigns supreme and that is the pizza in Italy. Pizza is such a great invention that it has spread all over the world, and is loved by billions. The best pizzas I've ever had have been in Naples, that wonderful southern Italian city that sits under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. I had always enjoyed cooking and eating, but my first encounter with a €3 Margherita followed by a cannoli with espresso there was where my senses aligned and I truly understood why the Italians loved food so much. This food was life-changing stuff.
So when I walked into Osteria Lucio I had all these thoughts running through my mind. The place has been taken over by one of Dublin's best chefs Ross Lewis (owner of Michelin starred Chapter One) and his long time Italian chef friend Luciano Tona. It used to be Pizza E Porchetta but they've put their own stamp on it, aiming to make it one of the best Italian spots in town.
The website talks about a cooking of "friendship", a simplicity of ingredients and a reliance on quality suppliers. I mean, this is all great to hear but I wondered if the restaurant this just a little hobby for the lads: a place to bring the mates, fire up the oven and get pissed on good Barolo maybe?
As soon as the starter arrived, I realised that it isn't. Grilled sprouting broccoli was served with goat's cheese, beetroot, smoked almonds and Dijon mustard sauce. A dish that sounds heavy on the menu but which turned out to be a summer delight. It was a masterpiece of a starter and the perfect way to get excited for a pizza.
I ordered the Calzone which I find is the ultimate test of a pizzaiolo. Too often they go for size over substance with the result being a big doughy mess with the filling about 6 inches deep.
Mine was flatter to the point where I wondered would it fill me, but it turned out to be the perfect portion size. It was filled with insanely good mozzarella, ricotta and high end salami. What a triumph of a pizza. If the Cazlone was good, however, the Margherita was off the charts. I cursed myself for not ordering it when I tasted the tomatoes. They were barely even crushed into a sauce and nearly whole on top, it was the best pizza sauce I have ever tasted in Ireland.
We finished with some great gelato and a coffee - both were spot on. The little touches and the quality of service have clearly been imported from Chapter One so get get a top class experience. The food, on the other hand, was straight out of the heart of Italy with a focus on quality ingredients from both Ireland and Italy.
I'm sure they'd love to have all Irish ingredients but the simple fact is that you'll never find a tomato that tastes that good with the lack of sun on this island.
We sat outside in the sun which always makes everything taste better. I've never been a huge fan of the room here, with the low roof and the unusual layout but it will work at lunchtime which is where the market is around here. The place will be packed with all the local young techies, and the dinner crowd will be a little more sophisticated.
Ironically, I think the place will improve - artists this good will grow it into something even better, and add touches none of us see coming. I personally can't wait and go back to try their pastas, their meats and their vegetables. I don't even know who makes the best pizza in Dublin anymore (Manifesto, Paulie's etc) because anybody can win it on the day.
All I know is that sitting in Osteria Lucio eating that pizza made me remember Napoli and the insane food experiences I had there. To create food that simple in one of the richest areas of Dublin takes some serious skill and experience. This place will be a big hit - get down there.