“In Italian cooking, there’s nowhere to hide.”
I had just asked Temple Garner — chef/owner of a new Dublin restaurant called San Lorenzos – why Italian food? “The Italians have a generosity of spirit, a simplicity, they allow the ingredients to really shine.” I couldn’t agree more, having grown up in a kitchen with an Italian mother and grandmother. It seemed to me that the city of Dublin, after enduring one of the worst hits to a westernized economy in decades, could use a little Italian comfort.
I stopped into San Lorenzos on a strangely warm June afternoon for what turned out to be a schooling in how the Dublin restaurant scene has changed. When I moved to New York from Dublin in 2010 the plush restaurants of the Celtic Tiger remained, complete with overstuffed chairs and fancy lighting. Now, returning a full two years later, the city center feels reinvigorated, thanks to chefs like Temple Garner.
“During the renovation, we stripped the room to concrete. The minimalist decor reflects the times.” The dining room has no white tablecloths, no elaborate table settings. Exposed overhead ducts and a few cozy high bar tables replace the luxe finishes of yesterday’s Dublin restaurants. This modern feel has been called New York in style, in that it’s not pledging allegiance to any one thing. Temple isn’t cooking food from a specific region of Italy, but is using Italy as an inspiration for his innovative menu.
There are several other resemblances to New York as well. First is the open kitchen, without even a pane of glass separating chef from diner. This concept of transparency is taken one step further with a second-floor bathroom, complete with a bird’s eye view straight down into the kitchen. Wash your hands and watch the chef plate your pasta.
Service has also grown up in Dublin. On a separate evening I took a seat at the Butcher Grill in Ranelagh. During my first visit to this steakhouse, I was in the excellent hands of a server that walked us through the menu with expertise. After devouring appetizers and nibbling on the perfect range of side dishes (don’t miss the onion rings) I went so far to say that quite simply, our server made the meal. Her experience and knowledge improved the experience greatly.
My afternoon chat with Temple finished up with a tour of the restaurant. Stepping into the walk-in, the chef proudly displayed a bundle of heirloom tomatoes. We talked fresh pastas and his description of a lobster fettuccine compelled me to make a reservation for that very evening. Before leaving, one more Italian trademark stood out. An emphasis on family. The General Manager Gerry has worked with Temple at other Dublin restaurants for the past decade. He’s not only the warm, friendly face welcoming guests to San Lorenzos, he’s also the godfather to Temple’s daughter.
The camaraderie between the team was unmistakable. This is a place where people love to work and love what they do. After my meal that night I realized it’s also an atmosphere that makes people want to return. As Gerry so aptly put it, it’s the “wee things” that make all the difference.
San Lorenzos, named after the patron saint of cookery, is located on South Great George’s Street in Dublin 2. A knowledgeable sommelier can pair wines for the evening. Prices are affordable.
All food photographs courtesy of Terry McDonagh