Clever Cooking in a Cosy Suburban Haven – Volpe Nera Restaurant Review
In a time of great uncertainty, I know at least two things to be true. Good food can ease many woes, and I don’t want my woes to include the closure of some of the restaurants I have come to love over the years. All the more reason to get out and support our favourite spots when we can.
It was a simpler time when I first fell for the charms of Volpe Nera, nestled between Blackrock and Foxrock – get it? On a cold and dreary Valentines weekend, the then-newcomer to Dublin’s dining scene wooed us completely. Dim lighting, warm service and a menu of clever combinations from ex-Etto head chef Barry Sun won this suburban spot a place in our hearts.
Pencilling in a second date took longer than I would have liked, but moving to the neighbourhood and landing a rare Saturday night table mere days before the latest restaurant restrictions were imposed felt like it was meant to be.
Guided to our quiet corner of this cosy and inviting cottage by Darren D’Arcy, ex L’Ecrivain, I was pleased to note that Volpe Nera still has an air of sophistication without an ounce of stuffiness, despite many rave reviews since opening.
On first glance of the short but ever so inviting menu, we knew difficult choices lay ahead. Having been charmed by a superb Cote de Boeuf with a bonus beef short rib dish last time, we decided to veer beyond the classics to some of Sun’s more delicate sounding creations. Delicate, in fact, would turn out to be the word of the night.
We couldn’t resist a couple of small snacks to kick off, with rustic, malty bread and whipped umami-rich cep butter proving a simple treat in itself, as well as perfectly bite sized salted hake croquettes spiked with preserved lemon.
With the way you look tonight humming in the background, the starters looked beautiful indeed. Mine was a modern, thoughtful Veal Carpaccio artwork. Purple potato crisps adorned a crown of lithe veal shavings with just the right amount of acidic pickle of cipollini onion to richness, finished with what seemed like a smoother-than-Sinatra anchovy mayo.
A second tempting starter came in the form of Stracciatella, the creamiest innards of burrata, crowned with balsamic pearls, pineapple tomato and micro basil to cut through, plus crisp rye disks for crunch. This dish took the flavours of a classic Caprese, refined and reimagined into a far more elegant and exciting dish.
Continuing as starters began, my main of Suckling Pig arrived perfectly composed in every way, from the char on the carrot to the richness of morcilla, the blushing pork was expertly accessorised with yet more pearls of mustard seed, popping off the plate with flavour before my fork could even investigate the smokey Romesco. Married together in a forkful, very element sang.
Across the table, a dish of golden pan roasted Cod and saline dulse was far from your standard fish course, with buttery leeks and dollops of intensely savoury taramasalata. It didn’t stay across the table for long, as we both felt the need to take more than a friendly bite of each of the main dishes, which more than stood up to our beloved Cote de Boeuf.
Fork fights also broke out over superb sides, beef dripping Hash Brown Fries as utterly addictive as they sound and a Hispi Cabbage side with nuggets of crisp Alsace bacon and mustard spiked dressing, seemingly on a mission to compete with Sun’s sublime mains in the flavour stakes. Similar incarnations may appear on many menus at the moment, but with very good reason when executed this well – there will be no sharing one hispi next time.
For dessert, a shared Granny Smith Sponge managed the ultimate feat of being buttery delicious yet cloud like in texture. This dish was pure nostalgia delivered with finesse and Calvados ice cream, making us think custard who?
With our dessert we polished off a pleasant Italian number Cantina de Negrar from the ‘Delicate’ reds section, which acted as a solid all-rounder for the various different dishes we enjoyed and was well priced at €36. If indulging in the Cote de Boeuf, I must recommend one of my firm favourites, Duckhorn ‘Decoy’ Zinfandel, a bit more of a splash at €66 for a deeply delicious Sonoma drop.
Dining out these days can feel a bit like countdown with the time restriction in place, but every minute feels very well spent here. In a move as clever as the cooking, Volpe Nera has adapted to these trying times by extending their opening hours, serving in their stylish heated terrace and in the neighbouring Wishing Well pub outdoor area to allow for more covers and keep things ticking over.
Everybody needs good neighbours. I’m delighted Volpe Nera is mine and I’ll happily brave the Irish October chill to get my fix again in the coming weeks, although it will be a battle to choose between so many standout dishes.
We expect greatness from a chef like Barry Sun but here, we get so much more. An unexpected place in the suburbs manages to pull off the perfect balancing act of contemporary fine dining dishes served in an informal and inviting setting. Like a rare black fox sighting, Volpe Nera leaves a lasting memory indeed.
Dinner for two with snacks, two starters, two mains, a shared dessert, a bottle of wine and sparkling water came to €144, excluding gratuity.
Volpe Nera, 22 Newtown Park, Blackrock, Co. Dublin
WRITTEN BY DARINA COFFEY