Grup Spy: Bon appetito

This atmospheric eatery with its come-hither menu of Italian small plate delights is just the place to discover the joys of ‘aperitivo’, writes Grub Spy Alan Kelly

The glamorous interior

Pasta cacio e pepe

Deep-fried baby sardines

Sunday World

An Italian buddy of mine, who has lived in Ireland for nigh-on twenty years, enlightened me recently on the finer points of ‘aperitivo’. I had always assumed, incorrectly, that it was merely an Italian version of a quick drink and a chat. In fact, it’s a much-loved ritual of convivial chinwagging with finger food and low-alcohol drinks — like Aperol or Campari with fizzy water — usually enjoyed after work and always before dinner.


7 Nassau St, Dublin 2

4.5 stars

food €20 DRINKS €9.60

We Irish also enjoy a tipple and a natter after work — and few can match us for conviviality and craic. Perhaps that’s one reason, despite the physical distances between say Rome and Dublin, why we Irish get on so well with Italians. I was thinking along those very lines as I entered Aperitivo Cicchetti on Nassau Street. It’s a premises that has housed quite a few culinary ventures over the years, but I doubt any of them looked quite as cute or inviting as this latest incarnation. Squashed into a space small enough for a Hobbit family, it’s the kind of set-up you simply can’t help falling for. It’s only 1.15pm and already I hear diners praising the food — always a good sign. And I can’t help falling for the cicchetti menu either. Here’s some info you might need to know. Essentially ‘cicchetti’ is an Italian (specifically Venetian) riff on Spanish tapas — and this particular cicchetti menu has something that aims to please everyone. There are come-hither offerings of fritto misto, arancini, gnocchi, panzerotti, zucchini fritti and panzanella. I start with bianchetti, a nifty bowl of crispy deep-fried baby sardines with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. There’s freshness apparent in each bite. Simple. Delicious. Perfectly executed. I could eat stuff like this all day every day. A petite serving of pasta cacio e pepe is up next. I am impressed. The thick bucatini pasta is proper slippery, cooked spot-on al dente, and the creamy pecorino/Parmesan/black pepper sauce is as subtle and deeply satisfying as any classic cacio e pepe served anywhere in the city. Love it, love it, love it. I finish my cicchetti experience with a simple, wholly respectable affogato. Yes, it is plain vanilla ice cream in a cocktail glass, and yes, it is made runny with a little moka pot of gorgeous coffee. But it is also extremely enjoyable and absolutely the right thing to have. I take my time to finish a glass of Chianti and consider how much I’ve enjoyed my light aperitivo meal. This is further evidence, as if I needed it, that Italians always somehow manage to do ordinary things with great style and affection. For me, this eatery, and the entire dreamy concept of aperitivo is all about relaxation and communication with excellent food as a backdrop almost, plus not getting wasted in the process. And it so totally works. The only annoying thing is the 12.5pc service charge. Really, management! In this service-industry age? And I’m not just being antsy. That said, it’s more than likely I’ll be calling again — and soon. It’s really good to see Nassau Street has a new culinary hotspot worth checking out.

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