issues, and subsequently opened a “popdown” restaurant in the basement. Now the casual ground-floor café has had a menu overhall, with a strong Caribbean influence. There’s a lovely, airy dining room here although seating is limited (we are brought behind the bar to reach our far table, so as not to disturb a large group). A square booth is probably the best seat in the house on a cold, wet evening.
There is a long ice bar holding fresh fish – which still features heavily on the new menu – on the smaller plates, fried gambas with a sweet red pepper vinaigrette (¤10) come fat and well cooked, some shell on, others shell off. There are some excellent crab claws (¤10), braised in cast-iron pot with a rich, moreish “shellfish and tomato ragout” and some very good sourdough.
The Caribbean influence is less evident in the smaller dishes, although there was a nod east in some sticky duck wings (¤10) – far superior to their chicken cousins – which came with a ginger and mango sauce and topped with lots of chilli and garlic (no kissing after these).
The heat turns up in the mains, with chargrilled Jerk poussin with buttered yams and scallions (¤19) and a blackened swordfish burger with mango (¤18). We opted for a rich West Indian glazed beef short rib (¤22) – fat and heavy on a rather whopping rib bone – served with roasted pineapple, spices and dressed liberally with crushed peanuts.
Best of the mains is a whole sea bass (¤19), coated in panko and fried crispy on the outside, while still deliciously delicate inside – propped on a bowl of sweet and sour black beans. It will be interesting to see the final phase opening at this spot, possibly later this year.
University Court, Castletroy, Limerick ¤ realitalianfoodies.com / facebook.com/lacucina Whenever I take a trip to Dingle, which is usually once a year for the Other Voices festival in December, I make a pitstop halfway to a little Italian café off the motorway in Castletroy, Limerick. I first became aware of La Cucina through the blog and tweets of its owner Lorraine Fanneran. “@italianfoodie will you have space for two hungry pizza lovers at around 2.30 this afternoon?” I’d tweet, somewhere around Roscrea. “@aoifeforkful of course!” would come the reply. “We’ll get the dough ready for you.”
Lorraine and her partner Bruno (the Pizza Boss and son of Italian immigrants ) opened La Cucina in a business estate in Castletroy in 2003, and have been dishing out freshly made pizzas, great ciabatta sandwiches and Italian salads ever since. It’s a casual spot. In fact, it’s won Best Casual Dining a couple of times at the Irish Restaurant Awards. On a good day, the Limerick sun spills in through its windows into this small, buzzing space.
Their pizzas range in price from just over ¤10 to ¤13.50 and all the classics are there, from the margherita to the fiorentina. You can get a bowl of pasta amatriciana (¤10.50) or a plate of bruschetta parma (¤6.50). They also launched their own range of Real Italian Foodies pasta sauces, which you can pick up at the shop or on their online store. This is a family business worth supporting. Go visit.
And make sure you send them a tweet when you’re nearby.