The Italian Restaurant Renaissance
It would seem the Italian restaurant concept has undergone a bit of a revamp recently, moving away from the old-world trattoria style we would traditionally have associated with Italian cuisine. Obliterating the stereotype championed by Dolmio et al, this new breed of Italian restaurant first beckons the customer with seductively plush interiors and keeps them coming back with luxurious Italian ingredients and modern takes on classic dishes.
Aged leather and dark wood evocative of a Disaronno bottle, button-cushioned booths and splashes of bold Campari red transport the diner to another world, without a chequered table cloth or hint of tricolore in sight. Don Draper would be right at home in these dimly-lit 50’s New York City style eateries and their Mad Men-esque appeal has contributed to this rebirth of the Italian Restaurant, from humdrum to high end.
These new generation Italians are like Joe Mangianello in a tailored suit – serious lookers. You can imagine a young Sophia Loren in them, batting her lashes at the well-heeled waiters and twirling spaghetti elegantly around a fork before inhaling it, surrounded by smoking jackets and tumblerfuls of Negroni’s. These are the restaurant equivalent of corsets and suspenders.
Born in New York, this trend has taken the city by storm. One of New York’s signature cuisines is Italian due to the large scale emigration of Italians to the States in the early 20th century. When I think of New York food, images of the salami-laden deli culture and mafiosos devouring bowlfuls of spaghetti and meatballs immediately spring to mind. While these traditional venues still dot the city, New York has seen the Italian restaurant evolve over the years and adopt elements of new American design, morphing to from slightly shabby to sumptuous. And like all trends worth embracing, this concept has crossed the Atlantic, to London and now Dublin.
While the food on offer in these establishments doesn’t always reflect what Nonna used to rustle up in the Terra Madre, a loyalty to tradition persists, with incarnations of Italian staples adorned with the finest of ingredients from the Peninsula. In place of bog standard ‘bruschetta’ you will find nods to authentic delicacies, hand torn Burrata di Puglia, drizzles of Modena Balsamico nearing teenage years, Olio you could comfortably drink by the glassful. This evolution is most definitely a positive development for Italian cuisine – feast your eyes on the Italian Restaurant Renaissance.
The Temple Bar – NoHo NYC
Not the Temple Bar we are all accustomed to, The Temple Bar in newly hip Noho attracts an equally beautiful crowd to linger in its velvet upholstered booths lit by candlelight.
Monkey Bar – Elysee Hotel NYC:
Owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and eminently New York, the Meat-packing District’s Monkey Bar cements the concept as a stylish trend not likely to disappear any time soon.
The Oak W2, Notting Hill
The Oak sounds like a spot for a pint and a carvery but is actually a hip modern Italian eatery providing the gourmet pizza fix for London’s elite in exclusive Notting Hill in its sexy high-ceilinged, red-walled dining room.
Recently crowned Best Restaurant in Ireland at the Restaurant Association Awards, SMS Luna is the flagship of this new breed of Italian restaurant in Ireland. Sultry mood lighting, come-hither leather and velvet throughout and a 50’s New York Mobster feel make Luna the sexiest restaurant in Dublin, and that’s before you even get around to sampling their luxurious menu.
Angelina’s has perfected New York Italian diner chic and has the added dimension of being canal-side. Low-hanging lampshades reflect in the floor to roof window panes gilded with gold, think dinner with a Venetian style view.
The newest kid on the Italian themed block, Farrier and Draper screams boys club and oozes sophistication – there is no doubt that Don Draper would lap this place up. Shadowy hues of slate grey and navy off-set with mismatched frames and grand fire-places create an Italian palatial feel.
Famous for its Brunch of Champions, Temple Garner’s San Lorenzo’s was one of the first to bring the upmarket New York diner to Dublin and breathing new life into Italian-American cuisine. A slice of New York Baked Cheesecake in a brick walled booth has the Big Apple vibe written all over it.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!