The Strangest Yet Best Little Italian Restaurant In Town
In 10 words
Italian food so good, I almost wept. On…Clanbrassil Street?
The geographical center of nowhere. Rottinculo is located on the corner of Clanbrassil Street and Daniel Street, where its nearest neighbours are several dozen apartments, a pharmacy, and a kebab shop called “Passion4Food.”
Need help finding it? The mattress store advertisement on the side of the building is a good landmark. Look for the giant billboard reading, “Dublin’s best lay 5 minutes away.”
Italians. Almost exclusively. I wonder initially if some of these customers are friends of the staff, but really, everyone in the place gives the impression that they have a personal affection for the place. Several seem to be regulars. The crowd feels almost like a club, but the staff are eager to invite you in as the newest member. With the size of the place, you can hear everyone’s conversations, and the majority aren’t in English.
One tiny sign in the window claims they are open from 6:30pm. I walked in just past 8pm on a Wednesday and got a seat easily. Neither the posted hours nor the restaurant’s Facebook page says when they close, but I’d suggest arriving as close to 6:30 as possible or calling ahead, especially on the weekend.
Rottinculo has six tables and a total of two dozen chairs. You’re greeted inside the door by a station where the two front-of-house staff are plating things, pouring drinks, and frequently shouting at each other in Italian. Panning around the room – for it is just one, fairly small room – you might think there’s more to the place hiding around a corner. (There isn’t.) Despite this, the tables really aren’t too close together, and the number of chairs to size of restaurant ratio feels just right.
Most standard Italian classics are on offer here, and we’re surprised to see a full page of deli products on the menu, too. Pictures on the walls show the ingredients of these jams and sauces being grown back on the owners’ farm in Sicily. The contents of the menu may not be intimidating, but the menu itself may be to the design-minded: it’s a folded sheet of paper in a protective sleeve whose design inspiration would appear to be Windows '95.
With the location, the size, and the sparse décor, you could rightfully be skeptical of Rottinculo when you first sit down. When the food hits your table, though, it becomes evident that this place is the real deal. My friend and I started with a simple bread and dip selection. We hardly expected to be blown away by dip, but by the end of the course, we were eating the leftovers with a spoon.
Though each of the four dips was great, the standout to me was the basil pesto, served so fresh that you could still feel the crunch of the pine nuts and count the basil fragments in each bite.
The high quality kept up through the mains. My friend’s carbonara was a delight, the bacon crispy and the parmesan dusted on top the perfect amount to infuse every forkful.
My main, a gnocchi with cream sauce and porcini mushrooms picked from the long and mouthwatering list of the day’s specials, was simply divine. The gnocchi were compact little morsels – barely more than a centimetre across – and pillow soft.
Even the mushrooms, an ingredient I normally dislike, impressed me in this dish. They were unexpectedly salty, which provided a beautiful contrast to the buttery sauce.
We finished the meal off with desserts, a creamy tiramisu for my friend and a vanilla and fruit torta for me. My torta was basically a standard-issue (though pretty) slice of vanilla cake, but the tiramisu, labeled as a slice but presented as more of a collapsing, creamy blob, was an Italian classic just as deserving of praise as the restaurant’s flawlessly executed pastas.
Nothing too earth-shattering on the menu here, but the one wine on offer that night, their own homemade Sicilian white, was fruity and complex and made a nice addition to the meal.
Two glasses of wine, an appetizer, two mains (including one from the pricier specials list), and two desserts for €52. Not half bad.
The one element of the night where the restaurant almost lived up to its name – “rottinculo” is Italian slang meaning “pain in the ass” – was the speed and attentiveness of service. A leisurely pace makes sense for this type of dining, but it reached a point of inconvenience at times.
This was probably – no, definitely – the strangest context in which I’ve ever had a meal so delicious, that I left the restaurant nearly in tears over how good it was. How did this place end up in this restaurant-less neighbourhood? Why is their logo a cat? Why is there almost no evidence on the internet that they even exist?
Rottinculo is a strange little place, but the linguistic makeup of the clientele tells you all you need to know: if you’re into Italian food, you have to eat here.