Ask people what they want from a restaurant, and the chances are they won’t say that they want the most-cutting edge cooking, or the most fashionable room.
What they will tell you that they want from a restaurant is to have a comfortable and welcoming space where the staff remember them, and where they can, if they wish, go into an auto-pilot state.
What they want is a restaurant where they can relax.
On that score, Michael’s Italian Restaurant, on The Rise, in suburban Mount Merrion, hits every bliss point. The staff see the customers arriving, and have the door opened for them before they hit the threshold. The room is modest but comfortable, with terracotta walls and shelves of wines – it will remind you of places you have eaten in the hills above some Italian city.
I’d wager, also, that the staff know their customers so well that some of the punters probably sit down just ask for the “same again“ – meaning a glass of that Tin Pot sauvignon, and the brilliant osso bucco, and then an espresso, and off they go.
On a Wednesday evening, there is a thrilling mix of folk in Michael’s: some are meeting and eating casually. Some are eating quickly, others are meeting up and eating slowly, and others are ordering the good wines. Some look like they have been here scores of times, whilst some – like us – haven’t been here since Michael’s was taken over by the Kinara group, and Gareth Smith took charge of the kitchen.
Mr Smith is a fine cook and, like any cook who wishes to cook good Italian dishes, he respects the medium: his cooking is an act of curation. His osso bucco, for instance, is drop-dead perfect: unctuous, sweet, homely, cooked as if the guy was reared in Bologna. His meatballs with fresh pasta, likewise, are bang on the money, as are duck arancini. And when Sally McKenna got the first taste of her Kettyle sirloin of beef, served with a few onions rings, she called it “perfect”. The texture was as extraordinary as the taste – yielding, umami, herbaceous – and this was steak as nature intended, cooked with precise care.
The next time I go back I will probably opt for the fish and shellfish dishes, for a little selection of cockles, clams, mussels and a crab claw that we tried were so pristine that we might have been sitting on the lisp of Clew Bay. Then again, I might order the pizza, to see if Mr Smith has gotten it right, for the hero pizza we ordered, with beef ham, didn’t work at all, as the base was too pillowy. A mango panna cotta, likewise, didn’t benefit from being tinkered with: they wouldn’t use mango in a panna cotta in Bologna, would they?
Aside from these glitches, Michael’s is just great: great destination, great casual place, great Saturday night special, and the staff are the bee’s knees. Comfort food in a comfortable room in this comfortable part of south Dublin: it’s what we all want.