The Irish Mail on Sunday
The Mick Wallace dining experience
Let’s pick up where we left off. You may recall that last week’s lunch was greatly enhanced by the breaking news of Alan Shatter’s resignation. As, indeed, was the week itself. Never before has such a horrible little man cheered up so many people who’ve never met him. So it was only fitting that this week’s review should be of a restaurant owned by Mick Wallace, who played no small part in the chain of events that led to the former minister effectively being turfed out on his ear.
Like Mr Shatter, of course, Mickser is a controversial figure. Critics might describe his previous attitude to the taxman as cavalier, given that it seemed to be of the I’ll-leave-him-alone-if-he-leaves-- me-aloneschoolofthought.Others have pointed to his dress sense and the implied lack of respect for the august surroundings of Leinster House. The real issue has less to do with what Mr Wallace wears in the Dáil, of course, than the fact it’s a bit odd for a 58-year-old to be going around looking like a roadie for AC/DC.
Still, no one can dispute that his far-sighted initiative to develop an Italian Quarter in the capital transformed a previously unloved and unlovely part of the city into something quite different. The first of his venues to open, Enoteca delle Langhe, has been on the go since 2003. Like some of his other outlets, the building has been put up for sale by the receivers, although the restaurant remains as a sitting tenant.
At least six or seven years have passed since the only previous time I was in this place. My recollection of that visit is a pleasant afternoon of red wine, cheese and utterly inconsequential conversation. Most of the latter, I might add, was coming from the direction of Caroline Morahan. Not that the occasional actress and TV presenter was at our table, though. It was just that we could hear her discussing her plans for world domination from across the room. Suffice to say this was before she went off to find fame and fortune in Los Angeles, where she discovered they already had enough moderately attractive starlets with bee-stung lips and heaving cleavages.
The place looks much the same as I remember. It is styled on a traditional wine bar in the Langhe region of northwestern Italy: a handful of stools at the counter, simple tables and chairs and red-brick walls. There’s a corner display of some of the wines imported from 40 mainly smallscale producers. Even the music betrays the owner’s love of all things Italian. My charming guest was able to tell me that the song playing as we sat down was É L’uomo Per Me by Sixties chanteuse Mina. A quick search on Google Images suggests Mina was probably the Italian Sandie Shaw of her day. With shoes, though.
There is also evidence of Mickser’s other great passion, football, on the restaurant walls. One corner is devoted to the fortunes of his beloved Wexford Youths, whose strip features a particularly striking shade of their boss’s favourite colour: pink. According to the club website, having pink in the team colours is a statement of intent ‘to remove the macho image’ associated with the game. Sounds reasonable enough, in fairness.
Anyway, the food. We started with a selection of excellent bruschetta: aubergine, mushroom, smoked salmon and goat’s cheese, spreadable spicy sausage and, of course, tomato. My main course was a rustic-sounding house speciality involving lentils from the Norcia region and sausage from Tuscany. It was served in a small tureen and was very good indeed. My friend’s pork and mush- rooms daily special was also good, although the pasta tubes came a bit too al dente for her liking.
The service was laid-back, friendly and very good. Our main courses were delivered with a generous portion of crusty bread. When it turned out that the wine we’d asked for was out of stock, the waiter suggested a very pleasant alternative that was a couple of euro cheaper.
Whateverhisshortcomingselsewhere, Mick Wallace did a very nice job on the Italian Quarter. I can’t speak for his other establishments, but Enoteca delle Langhe is a fine fixture on the city’s casual dining scene. Not quite up there with his role in Alan Shatter’s downfall, admittedly, but a worthy achievement none the less.