First there was Frank’s, owned by the Fitzpatrick (Fitzer) family, later came the Bridge Bar, and then Pizza & Porchetta, where my late father-in-law, Jimmy, hosted his 90th birthday party, reckoning that the food on offer was what his grandchildren would most appreciate. (It wasn’t a wholly selfless choice though; he did have a fondness for pizza.)
If J Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, some of us use restaurants in the same way; each one of these establishments very much encapsulated its moment in time, from when the Docklands still felt grungy and undiscovered, through the madness of the glitter monkey years, followed by the gloom of those when we thought that the country would never recover.
But until last week, I’d never eaten in Osteria Lucio, the current occupant of these premises, although its fine pizzas on Deliveroo sustained us through the no-kitchen phase of a house-renovation nearby.
Located under the railway arches, this is an undeniably compromised space that somehow manages to work. Part of this may be down to the fact that there’s no phone signal in most of the room, so it is a restaurant in which to concentrate on one’s companions and the conversation, or even one in which it is possible to disappear, something that’s not always easy to achieve in this town.
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On a Saturday evening, the place is buzzing gently – the pre-theatre crowd has departed for the Bord Gàis Theatre leaving couples, friends catching up and one larger party celebrating a birthday, but not in such a way as to impinge upon anyone else. I knew that this was a popular spot with show-goers, but it’s a pleasant surprise to see it so busy after the curtain has gone up.
There is nothing to scare the horses about the food offering here – Osteria Lucio is a restaurant that clearly aims to keep everyone happy – but, as one might expect from a joint venture between Ross Lewis of Chapter One and his Italian friend Lucio Tona, the simple things are done well.
Last summer, in Scicli in Southern Sicily, the beautiful Baroque town that’s home to Inspector Montalbano, we lunched on ragu-filled arancini the size of a baby’s head, in a modest café off the Piazza Italia. The cost? Just a couple of euro for something that would keep you going until dinner. So the saffron arancini at Osteria Lucio, filled with veal ragu, is a disappointment in terms of size, being a single sphere barely larger than a golf ball.
We order two between four of us and cut them in half, but there is just a mouthful – tasty, granted – each, which seems on the stingy side, considering the €7 price tag per arancino. The nduja and rosemary flat-bread, on the other hand, also from the cicchetti section of the menu, is generous, with good texture and a fine kick to it.
I know that Osteria Lucio makes its pasta by hand each day, and the spaghetti with Irish cockles, squid, courgette and scallions is simple and quite perfect. The tagliatelle with a ragu of duck, spinach and pecorino is dull though, lacking the meaty richness that we expected. Tagliata comes with a salad of raw cabbage, Parmesan and shallot dressing; the meat is flavoursome and the crunchiness satisfying. Pizza from the wood-fired oven – the salsiccia iteration this time – is as good as we remember it.
Sides of polenta fries with a chilli aioli and broccoli with almonds please; we finish with a portion of tiramisu shared between four that would have preferred to be boozier rather than just sweet. (I’m in the minority.)
We drink a bottle of the organic, deep-crimson Langhe Maretti from Piedmont (€42), a blend of 70pc Barbera and 30pc Nebbiolo, that you’ll find on a number of lists around town and available for €19 retail. With sparkling water and a couple of soft drinks we spend €188 before service. If you were to visit for lunch or the early bird, you could eat many of the same dishes for less.
ON A BUDGET
The pre-theatre menu is priced at €27 for two courses and €32 for three.
ON A BLOWOUT
Share a large plate of salumi, mains, sides and dessert and the bill will be around €100 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
A warm welcome, excellent hand-made pasta and proper, professional service.
THE LOW POINT
I’d baulk at spending €7 on a single, small arancino again.
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