It was the taste of that first tomato that did it.
We hadn’t seen the sun set and I was already smitten with Italy. On my first holiday there, on the glorious Amalfi coast last year, my friend and I were being baked in an uncomfortably hot Sorrento. In a tiny, dusty restaurant, we cooled off and ordered Insalata Caprese. That was the first time I actually tasted sun in a tomato, and what the word ripe meant. The mozzarella was young and pillowy and fantastic. A soft white on the lip smacking red of tomato and cracks of black pepper, glugs of olive oil and sweetly picked basil. The owner allowed us to stay and we sat happily for the afternoon and ordered another Caprese, and then pasta and local wine. We solved the problems of the world that day. I kept wondering why the owner wasn’t rushing us and soon realised why. He’s Italian.
When I first went to Terra Madre, on Bachelor’s Walk, I was reminded of all of those things I loved about my Italian trip. The food, the people, and their passion for sourcing every precious ingredient that goes on the plate. Then allowing those ingredients to sit simply, proudly secure in the knowledge that they are all beautiful and delicious. No fuss, just food.
I told my friend, and colleague from RTÉ ‘The Restaurant’, food writer Paolo Tullio, about Terra Madre, which translates as ‘Mother Earth.’ Him being my touchstone for all things Italia related, I was keen on his judgement.
This place is tiny, downstairs in a basement off Bachelor’s Walk . It’s unpretentious. It’s a place you wouldn’t go on a first date, but a third. It’s charmingly bare, chandelier free with a few knee crusher tables and a distinct lack of linen, which highlight what’s important for them here: the food. The wine list is similarly stark. It’s whatever they deem is good, one white, and one red. Pretty risky, or arrogant, but thankfully, it’s always been good.
The menu is short. One photo copied page of A4 paper, smudged with fingerprints. And my favourite, there is no pizza.
We ordered the bruschetta. One crostino with lardo di Colonnata, and one with wild capers. The lardo is my favourite, but both are delicious. Lardo is something that dare not speak its name, lard. Rendered and matured, it’s utter artery hurting heaven. Thanks to Paolo for first teaching me how to say bruschetta properly. (brooos- ske-ta).
The highlight of the salads which came next was an ingredient and my dear love, cheese. A Parmesan that was aged for 36 months was proudly announced when it arrived at the table and shone in a simple salad.
Paolo had the rabbit gnocchi, which is the best I’ve tasted in town. I had a pasta dish with pasta cut ‘alla chitarra’ which was square and like guitar strings, with a Calabrian tomato sauce. It was tasty, nothing to write home about and I wished I had the gnocchi.
We finished on a chocolate cake and a ricotta tiramisu. My tiramisu lacked the rich indulgence of the mascarpone. Ricotta is a cheese I find pointless. But Paolo’s cake was good. He had had the meal I had wanted to. The espresso is the best I’ve had in Dublin, with proper crema on top. We left content.
Terra Madre is the closest I’ve found to that feeling I had in Italy. It is the beauty of sitting down to share good food with a loved one or friend where you appreciate the story of the food in front of you, as much as the people you are sharing the table with.
The link to Paolo’s review of Terra Madre is here: