Sitting by an open window with the sun streaming in is just the spot for a long overdue catch up. For me, it’s a good old natter about Italian food, with an Italian friend who expects forensic detail on each meal I’ve had on my recent holiday to Italy, many at restaurants she recommended.
Still recognised by strangers on the street as the former translator for Giovanni Trapattoni, in the food world Manuela Spinelli is known for her role as secretary general of Euro-Toques Ireland. She is always good company, especially when an Italian restaurant is involved. Luca Licciardello, one of the owners, has undergone considerable interrogation by the time I arrive, and cross-examination resumes as he pops out to greet me in Italian, only to realise that my fluency is at the culturally inappropriate Joe Dolce level.
Switching to English, he reminisces about his first job in Ireland 16 years ago. It was in Little Caesars, an Italian restaurant, which along with Pizza Stop, has been wiped off the Monopoly board below us on Chatham Street. A carapace is already forming around the looming cranes, soon to be home to the European Commission headquarters. It was a sad day, he says, to see the buildings come down, it had been a little corner of Italy with so many nice people.
Amuri (love, in Sicilian) is not the easiest restaurant to find, and it was only after checking the street number and spotting the restaurant name on the pretty Sicilian tiles around the ground-floor entrance, that I realised it is located in the former tasting room above The Corkscrew wine shop. I have attended many great tastings in this room, and the large TV screen which sits on one wall, the shelves of glasses and the extensive wine list serve as a reminder.
Olive oil, cold pressed from Tonda Iblea olives which grow in the hills between Catania and Siracusa, is vivid and fruity. We mop it up with our bread as we order from a comprehensive menu that includes antipasti, starters, pasta, main courses and desserts. A Giovinotto Nerello Mascalese (€32) gets the nod from Licciardello; it is a Sicilian wine.
We start with an octopus salad (€13), served in a smart, cheffy looking dish. It is quite substantial, with tender chunks of octopus and tentacles tossed with sweet and sour onions in a fresh tasting dressing that would point up quite nicely with an additional splash of lemon juice. The caponata (€13), which has been plated precisely using a round mould, has been topped with micro-planed Modica chocolate and finished with a ring of basil sauce. It has the play of sweet and sour you expect from this dish, but could perhaps be just a little more assertive.
More rustic and hugely satisfying is the garganelli alla norma (€17), a Sicilian classic, with large quills of fresh pasta doused in a rich tomato and aubergine sauce, dotted with ricotta. It is piping hot, full of flavour and nuance, with a touch of acidity from capers and a tingle of chilli heat on the finish.
Bottarga is a prized ingredient from Sicily, made by curing and drying the roe of bluefin tuna, so it is no surprise that it makes its way on to this menu. In the tagliolini mantecati al burro di bottarga (€23), it forms the basis of the dish, with a combination of butter and oil bringing out the intense fishy taste of small slices that have softened in the warmed oil. Fine strands of samphire add a crisp sea flavour. While not made in-house, all the pasta in Amuri arrives fresh from Rosa Madre, which expanded production during the pandemic and supply a number of restaurants and gourmet food shops.
Desserts are classic and tasty, a crisp cannolo filled with ricotta (€8), and tiramisu (€9), which is served in a Bialetti moka pot. We skip coffee, but there is no finishing without a complimentary glass of limoncello, an Italian touch which never ceases to charm me.
Amuri has a Sicilian heart and soul, made all the more special by Licciardello’s warm service. If you were to venture further into the menu, where fish and meat options start at €30, you might run up a bit of a bill, but sticking with the pasta makes for a very nice dinner indeed. One I’m sure the future incumbents of the shiny new building shooting up across the street will appreciate.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €115.
THE VERDICT 7.5/10 A true taste of Sicily in Dublin
Facilities Smart with nicely scented diffusers
Music Move-on-up and upbeat tunes
Food provenance Fish from Glenmar, meat from Sysco, speciality ingredients from Sicily
Vegetarian options Caponata and blue cheese salad for starters, gnocchi and two pasta dishes, and Parmigiana di melanzane for mains. The caponata and orange and fennel salad are the only vegan dishes
Wheelchair access No accessible room or toilet