Some time ago I was going to meet a foodie friend for lunch in Dublin city centre. I suggested Il Primo, about which I had read great things, but her response was “Meh, I’ve been there and I wouldn’t go back.” Two years later I finally got to try it for myself and I discover that I am in total agreement with my friend.
It was a bitterly cold night and when we arrived in the restaurant the waiter remarked on the weather. He then showed us upstairs to our table next to the window which was letting in a draught. As I am the kind of person who can go bare armed in March I surrendered my coat immediately (I was wearing a long sleeved top) but himself decided to hold onto his jacket for a while. I lived to regret that decision. The room was cold and remained so for most of the evening. Apart from one heater/air conditioning unit fixed to the wall furthest from us there was no visible sign that any heating existed there. The couple sitting next to the heater asked for it to be switched on, so at least they were warm.
We perused the menu and noted the specials marked on the board before making our final choices. I was tempted to try the risotto but decided it might fill me up too much. I opted for a chilled sherry served with parma ham, salami and olives. Himself picked the chicken and wild mushroom risotto. For main course I chose sea bream served with potatoes and vegetable and himself opted for tagliatelle with duck. We ordered a bottle of Pieropan Soave to drink with our meal. The waiter brought us some some bread and water and a nice Peroni for himself. I might note that the bread was not served with butter or oil . The starters came and I mine was disappointing. The salami, to my taste, was quite bland although hubby thought it had flavour. The singular slice of ham was good, but by no means brilliant. Hubby loved the risotto and I tasted it – twice. The first taste was very overpowering because of the strength of the mushrooms and the heavy stock used in cooking it. I didn’t like it. I took the second taste to determine how well cooked the rice was. It was cooked perfectly but again the flavour was way too strong for me.
On to the mains. The sea bream was filleted and served atop the vegetables. The fish was excellent although hubby described it as ‘very fishy’, the vegetables were overcooked – a surprising experience from the cuisine of the country that invented ‘al dente’. The evening was redeemed, slightly, by the tagliatelle dish with duck. It was incredibly good. The pasta was excellent (and I never order, buy or cook tagliatelle as it is my least favourite pasta) and coupled with the duck it became divine.
The room we were in could have accommodated twenty people yet, on Saturday night last, there were only ten people there including ourselves. (There were diners in other areas of the building.) The absence of customers contributed to the lack of ambience and, of course, the extra body heat might have helped in taking the chill out of the room. We pressed on and ordered dessert. I chose a lemon and lime torte and hubby had the cheeseboard. The torte was pleasant, if small, and was served with too much cream for my liking. The cheeses, on the other hand, were par excellence – pecorino, taleggio and gorgonzola. Beautiful, and generous portions too! We finished with excellent coffees.
Restaurateurs need to remember that dining out is not just about the food. It is also about comfort, service and rapport. Il Primo failed badly on the comfort side. When I am going out for a meal I expect to be able to dine in a warm environment. This is Ireland guys, get some heaters in there.
(Il Primo features in The Dubliner-Best 100 Restaurants – goodness knows why.)