Don’t mess with these proportions. They are perfect as they are. These are the instructions that Russell Norman, the restaurateur behind the now closed Polpo in London, imparts in his Venetian cookbook of the same name. There is such symmetry and balance in a negroni, he explains — equal measures of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth — that it cannot fail to bring a smile to your face.
In Aperitivo Cicchetti, the new Venetian-inspired restaurant in Dublin 2, from the people behind the Port House, the house negroni is poured from a decanter at the table into a chilled cocktail glass. There is no ice; it is kept chilled in the fridge, and the relatively accessible price of €7.50 would explain its diminutive, 50ml size, which may not bring a smile to everyone’s face. A Garibaldi (€10), in a 160ml Cipriani bellini glass, is a frothy mix of Campari and fresh orange juice, symbiotic deliciousness.
An aperitivo is a drink that is relatively low in alcohol, hence the smaller size for the negroni, I’d imagine. It is designed to be enjoyed with a few small bites at the bar, to whet the appetite before dinner. For something a bit longer, the Aperol spritz is the classic choice and is clearly a favourite with the millennials who have all their glam on in this wonderful room.
Raffaele Celentano’s famous Campari pendant lights and table lamps are the first thing you’ll notice when you walk through the door of this rather compact restaurant. Each lampshade is made from 10 small Campari bottles, casting jewelled red light across the dark wooden bar with panels of hammered copper, the teal coloured walls and the backlit rows of bottles. A yellow neon Negroni sign sits above the dumb waiter; and a mirror reflects the drama, running the length of the room on the opposite wall. It is beautiful and atmospheric, all 1950s glamour and fun.
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We order white wine from a list that hovers dangerously close to €40 a bottle at the low end but has quite a few options by the glass. A 150ml Soave Classico (€8.80) and Vermentino (€10.20) are suitably crisp with the fritto misto (€14), from the fritti (fried) section of the menu. It is a typical Venetian dish, traditionally made from the daily catch of fish sold in the Rialto market. Here it is whitebait, prawns and tiny calamari, and a scattering of courgette shoestring fries; all hot and crispy from being deep-fried in the lightest of batters, and confidently sprinkled with salt. It is a sharing plate for two, and a dish you simply must order.
The menu is divided into sections, and following the fritti are 11 pasta and baked dishes, deep-fried mini calzone pizzas, meat, seafood and, of course, desserts. I take the precaution of ordering just a few dishes at a time, but there is no danger of a pile-up here: dishes come to our very small table when we are ready. The service is delightful.
The Parmigiana di melanzane (€11.50), glistening slices of aubergine layered with tomato sauce and mozzarella, and dusted with grated Parmesan, is lusciously soft and savoury; working nicely with glasses of Maretti Lange Rosso (€8.80) and Chianti Riserva (€9.60). The handmade gnocchi (€7.50) are reassuringly irregular in size, bathed in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce that is rounded out with the crunch of freshly ground black pepper and a whisper of something else; dried porcini perhaps? Or maybe it’s just butter. It’s delicious.
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Saltimbocca di pollo (€11) is our last savoury dish, two strips of chicken wrapped in crisp prosciutto, served with a Marsala sauce. The chicken, unfortunately, is not free range, but the dish is very good; Marsala has superpowers. A tasty bowl of baby potatoes, roasted with rosemary and garlic (€5), is a nice accompaniment.
Dessert is zabaglione (€7), that alchemic combination of frothy egg yolks in Marsala, with classic plain biscotti; and sorbetto al Campari (€5), a grown-up slushy with the earthy notes from the bitters.
Aperitivo is a truly delightful restaurant. It is all about the detail, from the traditional uniforms for the waiting staff — crisp white jackets, white aprons and dickie bows — to the complimentary limoncello when you call for the bill. While you could run up quite a tab on cocktails and wine, the food is very tasty and well priced. Small plates are not going out of fashion any time soon. Especially the divine fritto misto.
Dinner for two with two cocktails and four glasses of wine was €130.
THE VERDICT: A glam vibe with tasty small plates
Music: Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and jazz
Food provenance: Spain Perez Vinas for fish, shipped directly; chicken from Ryan’s Meat, not free-range; vegetables from Keelings
Vegetarian options: Plenty to choose from, including gnocchi al Gorgonzola, tagliatelle con funghi porcini, cacio e pepe, and spinach and cheese tortellini. Vegan choices are limited
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible toilet