Food & DrinkGrub Spy

Grub Spy: The Unicorn by Fiorentina, 12 Merrion Court, Merrion Row

Grub SpyBy Alan Kelly
The unicorn by Fiorentina has a new owner and manager, and if early signs are anything to go by, it could surpass its former glory under the guindance of experienced restaurateur Kristan Burness (pictured with chef Denis Massey)
The unicorn by Fiorentina has a new owner and manager, and if early signs are anything to go by, it could surpass its former glory under the guindance of experienced restaurateur Kristan Burness (pictured with chef Denis Massey)

Most Dubliners my age remember with great fondness their first proper restaurant meal in the 1980s. And there certainly wasn’t a kaleidoscopic range of cuisines to choose from either.

Basically, you had your Chinese, your Indian, and your French or Italian. The Chinese/Indian offerings were pretty much take-aways on a plate (which was all fine and dandy), but if you were trying to impress they weren’t at the races really.
 
Aside from the eye-watering expense a typical French menu in the 1980s was, you hadn’t the foggiest what any of it meant either.
 
The only way to go was Italian. Big belt-straining bowls of pasta, rich, dense tomato sauces, ravishing deserts and maybe a free snifter of flaming Sambuca at the end. Sophistication or what?     
 
Which brings me to the Unicorn just off Merrion Row in Dublin 2. After a bit of a kafuffle, it looked like the old girl was about to expire. Foodie fashions may come and go, but it’s hard to imagine Dublin without the iconic Unicorn.
 
Thankfully, matters are now in the same savvy hands that run Fiorentina on Parliament Street - and prospects, I’ve been informed, are looking good again. With that in mind, I’ve been looking forward to a visit today, and I’m happily ensconced with a friend in the same outdoor corral I sat in many years ago.
 
It’s a relaxing and becalming spot, and on this beautiful June day there’s nowhere better to chill and sip away an afternoon. But we’re here for the food, and that’s what matters most. 
 
The lunch is pure Italian gold. A crunchy bruschetta draped with pillowy goats curd, cubes of sweet beetroot and fresh peppery rocket is an antipasto aristocrat. The calamari fritto misto is a crispy squidgy delight. Friend C loves it; she says she’d have exactly the same again...straightaway.
 
The fluffiest of potato gnocchi arrives next with luxuriously good crab and a scattering of vibrant green fava beans. It’s a snapshot of Abruzzo on a plate. All I need is a fork and a glass of something red. Absolute bliss.
 
Delicious, perfectly-fried lambs liver is served in a sultry dark sticky jus. I would have this every day of the week if I could. The crunch of al-dente green beans tossed with lardons of crispy pancetta is nicely balanced with a wonderful little pot of buttery mash. 
 
Desserts are just as dreamy. The panna cotta, mildly scented by accompanying strips of basil, is a delicate piece of wobbly wonderfulness. A tiramisu goes down much the same sexy way. Both are flawlessly made and real barnstormers in the taste department.
 
When it comes to the classics, who cares about de-constructing or reinventing or fixing things that were never broken in the first place?
 
All-in-all, this is the type of food Dubliners young and old will quite happily eat for the next 50-odd years. It is an expensive lunch but, considering the superb quality, it’s by no means exorbitant. I can hardly wait for the next visit.
 
The Damage: 
 
3-course lunch for 2: €54.50
Water: €4.50
Bottle of wine: €32
Total: €93.80
 
Verdict: A resounding yes (5/5).