Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Food review: La Cucina

In the premises of what used to be Lost Society on South William Street, La Cucina is in the basement of what is now Farrier & Draper. As it was my (strapped for cash) turn for "date night", and my stomach can be somewhat temperamental, I chose what looked to be a tasty Italian restaurant with a very decent early bird menu. After the meal, it is safe to say I would have paid a lot more based on how tasty the food was!

For starters, I chose something similar-ish to my "go-to" Caprese salad, which consisted San Daniele ham, buffalo mozzarella, vine tomatoes and fig preserve. As someone who could happily sit and eat a ball of mozzarella, I was in absolute heaven with this starter. The ham was beautifully salty, the mozzarella was creamy and heavenly without being too rich, and the sweetness of the vine tomatoes brought everything together. I tried the fig "preserve" (to me, it seemed like just a sliver of fig, possibly dried) for a few bites, but found it to be slightly too sweet. I feel in combination with a saltier cheese, it would have been a really nice addition.

Prosciutto – pro-SHOO-toe Bruschetta – bru-SKE-tah

My companion chose the bruschetta to start, which was a mix of classic, meat, & vegetarian options. Since we couldn't quite remember what was contained in each of the options and for fear of accidental mushroom ingestion by me (blegh), I tried only the "classic" - tomatoes, basil, & garlic. Again, I could have happily sat and eaten nothing but that for the rest of the evening. The tomatoes tasted as if they had just been picked - beautifully sweet and juicy, but not sickly. In fact, that's something that we noticed as the food was brought to our table - the aromas were so strong and fresh.

When choosing mains, we resorted to Google for some of the options (both "cep" and "chanterelle" are types of mushrooms!), and I settled on the Pappardelle which was a ragu of pork, nduja (sausage), garlic, tomato, & shavings of Pecorino Romano (cheese). I wouldn't usually associate pork with pasta, and it even took me a while to realise or remember what meat I was eating. I imagine it was a very slow cooked ragu, with the pork so soft and juicy, and melt in the mouth. The pappardelle pasta was, again, very fresh and cooked al dente as is to be expected in an Italian restaurant, but definitely not chewy, as has been my experience in the past. My one critique would be that I feel I had only 3 or 4 bites of sausage in the whole plate, but I must be honest in saying that I didn't miss it, because everything else was so tasty.

Pappardelle Risotto

The other choice at our table was the Risotto, with butter poached prawns, baby spinach, saffron, preserved lemon (not too sure what that is...) and radicchio. As someone who isn't the biggest fan of prawns, I tasted the rice only, and to my taste it was quite lemony, but I have reassurances from my fellow diner that the prawns were cooked to perfection.

At this point, I was very full, but my partner had spied a dessert that we had to try - mixed berry panna cotta with mini donuts (emphasis on the mini donuts). I would consider myself someone who does not have a sweet tooth, and it's not often that I would order a dessert, but I was definitely interested to try a bite of this so we shared. It turned out to be exactly what I like in a dessert - the sweetness of the panna cotta was cut by the tartness of the mixed berries. The mini donuts were kind of a weird addition but somehow worked; they weren't stodgy at all, just yummers.

Panna cotta Receipt

One 2 course and one 3 course meal from the early bird menu came to €47 (not including tip), which feels very reasonable based on the quality of the food and the accompanying atmosphere. I used OpenTable to make our booking, which advised that bookings were strictly for 2 hours, but we never felt rushed, and enjoyed chatting and listening to the funk and disco playing in the background. My one small pet peeve would be that it seems to be part of the recent trend where light is uncool (as experienced in The Blind Pig & The Chelsea Drugstore), so it was quite difficult to read the menu, but nothing that a little light from a phone won't fix.

Something which may have more of an impact for other diners is that, as La Cucina is in a listed building, it is currently not wheelchair accessible. I have been advised by Farrier & Draper management that they are currently working on a solution for access to their main bar area from South William Street via portable ramp, as well as the lower main bar area where food can be served. It is unclear whether or not there are accessible toilets in either La Cucina or the main Farrier & Draper building, for persons with reduced mobility. I found management to be quite responsive when I raised this query, so I would encourage anyone to contact them if you are interested in visiting.

I will definitely be visiting La Cucina again, and it will be added to the mental list I go through when feeling peckish in town with friends.

La Cucina (Farrier & Draper) ¦ 59 South William Street, Dublin 2 ¦ www.farrieranddraper.ie

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Fillum review: Lion

I have been a bit too relaxed in my cinema visits recently, and it seems that everything is on its way out just as I finally find the time to see it. Not only was I forced to choose between Fences and Lion last Tuesday, I also had to make the very difficult decision of pancakes or cinema! As a lover of pancakes, my cinema choice had a lot to live up to, and luckily it turned out to be the right choice.

Entertainment Film

Lion is a "based on a true story" film about Saroo, a young boy in India who is separated from his family without knowing the name of where he lives, or even his own surname, and subsequently adopted for a life in Australia. As he grows up, though he seems to be content, new experiences and people in university bring back memories of his lost life and childhood, and he takes to Google Earth with memories from two decades prior, in the hopes of retracing his steps to find his childhood home and, with it, his family.

Before seeing Lion, I knew little of the story, other than the basic plot and cast, and specifically that the boy playing young Saroo was adorbz. Though my expectations were not particularly high, I was looking forward to seeing how the story played out, and anticipated some tears on my part. These tears cannot always be taken as endorsement, however, as I am a renowned crier, having recently burst into tears at the trailer for the live action Beauty & the Beast (which, in my opinion, does not look remotely appealing).

I was very happy for my expectations to be exceeded, and to experience an unexpectedly intimate and quiet film. With such a big story, set in big places, it would be very easy to push it through the Hollywood machine to churn out a film with as many sharp highs and lows as possible but instead, this extraordinary story feels very understated and personal. We spend the first half of the film with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar), his brother Guddu, and his family. As much as I grew to love them, it did not feel difficult to let go of young Saroo and meet him as an adult (Dev Patel) as the goodwill I had for Saroo travelled with him through the ages.

Entertainment Film

One of the main strengths of the film, other than the pitch perfect tone, was Dev Patel's performance as adult Saroo. Not being overly familiar with his work, and more so his appearances on TV chat shows, I was concerned that I would be constantly reminded of the actor, and not the character. Even though his Aussie accent isn't perfect, I found his portrayal of Saroo completely believable and altogether 3D as a character. He was an open, warm, and unselfconscious Aussie who we slowly realise feels quite at odds with his outward appearance. As he allows himself to remember his childhood in India, and begins to search for his family, he is pained but never once feels angsty or tortured, even as he isolates himself from his friends and loved ones. How the story is told cinematically (specifically the way Saroo's past and present interact with each other) is another great strength, and again it is Patel's performance which helps to keep things from being saccharine and overdone.

Though it doesn’t feel like an emotionally manipulating Hollywood story, this isn't to say that I didn't cry throughout the film - in fact, I believe the American students to my left and the young couple to my right may have believed me to have some personal stake in the outcome of the film, there were so many tears shed! In saying that, I see this as another testament to the unassuming feel of the film, as I didn't feel at any point that I was supposed to cry, and rather that the whole film was quietly moving as we go on an emotional journey with the characters.

As I've said, I'm a bit behind in my cinema going and it looks like Lion might be leaving cinemas quite soon, so I would encourage you to check your local listings and catch it before it goes. It's (another) PG film which doesn't feel cut or watered down, and deals with an extraordinary story while somehow making it feel very personal and, at times, relatable. The film and story is also a great example of why it's never appropriate to ask someone who doesn't look like you where they're really from, because they may not know the answer.