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This Italian eatery in the heart of Cork is a real slice of heaven

GRUB SPY: Alan Kelly dishes the goods on Ireland’s tastiest dining destinations

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Bocelli pizza.

Bocelli pizza.

Bocelli's slick interior.

Bocelli's slick interior.

Bocelli's juicy meatballs.

Bocelli's juicy meatballs.

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Bocelli pizza.

After all the distress and anxiety of the past year or so, a visit to a restaurant is now as much about getting your head-space back to normal as it is about enjoying food.

BOCELLI KITCHEN AND WINE BAR
1 Maylor Street, Cork
4.5 stars

Food €56.40; Wine €26; Water €7

You pull on your best clobber, you are greeted like a long-lost cousin by smiling staff and seated at the best table to show how important you are to them. And isn’t it all quite wonderful. And don’t we deserve it. We are sitting in Bocelli Kitchen & Wine bar in Cork, soaking up the buzzing vibe that only a proper old-school Italian ristorante can offer. It’s that indefinable quality that no amount of money can just magic-up. A

s the late Anthony Bourdain once said “the perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.” Its the secret ingredient makes a meal complete in every way. Whatever it’s called – chemistry, warmth, atmos – you either have it or you don’t. Bocelli has it in spades.

On a curiously balmy October evening the place is packed with a chatty spirited bunch of diners and drinkers. The décor is your basic modern pared-back look. But it’s the vibe you feel first. Always a good guide to an Italian kitchen’s standards, we kick off with some mushroom arancini. Accompanied with a tasty puddle of mushroom sauce and a strip of flatbread, the sumptuous squidgy rice-balls are filled with mozzarella and delicious smoked pancetta.

With unexpected levels of sophistication, the caprese salad, with a nicely grilled beef tomato, creamy mozzarella, olives, pesto dressing, green salad and flatbread: not only looks great, it also tastes great.

Star of the main courses has to be the linguini with pork and beef meatballs. They are delicately rolled, lightly seasoned, and whacked-up with garlic and basil. I am a bit disappointed by how boring it looks, but the hearty flavours are full-on fantastic.

While it’s pretty much impossible to make risotto look sexy: the gloopy gorgeousness of Bocelli’s seafood risotto certainly makes-up for the loss. It is rich and tomatoey and laced with slivers of hake, cod, salmon and mussels. The only misfire is the awkwardness and near-impossibility of extracting the mussels from their shells.

To finish we decide to share a dessert of shell-shaped sfogliatelle pastries stuffed with sweet creamy ricotta. I could eat these crispy delights all night long. Served with vanilla ice cream they are just light and tasty enough to hit the spot.

Around the world Italian food is endlessly copied, reproduced, purloined and made an arse of – which makes getting the genuine article taste fantastic. And that’s what you are getting here: the genuine article. Nothing really upsets our enjoyment of our Italian meal, even the annoying little incident with the mussels: and that’s all it was, an annoying little incident.

Finally, if stars could be awarded for waiters, the smiling young chap who looked after us deserved at least five. Helpful, courteous and charming – no mean feat on a Friday night when the place is totally rammed. And isn’t charm a vital part of any meal.

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