If I search through my Dublin memory, I can’t recall the little stretch between O’Connell Bridge and Ha’Penny Bridge of Bachelor’s Walk ever having much to say for itself. Apart from the pub The Bachelor, of course, which is like stepping into a time machine. A smelly time machine, but one with great Guinness. So when I heard little whispers over the winter of this great little Italian place called Terra Madre on Bachelor’s Walk, I was skeptical. Terra Madre means Mother Earth, so it seemed appropriate to take a Mamma with me to check the place out.
Myself and my future mother-in-law Pauline nearly missed the restaurant the first time we walked past it, the sign leading down some steps to the basement restaurant being very discreet indeed. Pushing through the door, my glasses, quite literally, steamed up at the warmth and fullness of the small yet vibrant room. We were ushered to a spacious corner table which gave us a perfect vantage point to observe this tiny, bustling restaurant.
We’re talking about eight to ten tables, placed together like a delightfully compact jigsaw puzzle as opposed to an uncomfortably squashed mess. There’s an open doorway that gives view to the petite kitchen while a bar in the middle of the dining room boasts the most flashy thing in the room – the coffee machine. We had two waiters throughout the evening, who spoke in delightfully broken English, dressed in jeans and trainers, and awash with that glorious Italian confidence. It’s not arrogance. It’s just a matter of fact that the plate they’ve placed before you is way, way above average.
The menu is on a printed page and changes frequently, but the emphasis is always on slow-cooked Italian fare. It’s a wonderfully short menu, with a choice of two bruschetta toppings, three antipasti starters, three pasta choices and one non-pasta based main course. There is a choice of red or white wine, by the glass or bottle, with no choice of what that wine may be. Basically, whatever bottle is open, that’s what you’re getting.
I had to try the Lardo di Colonnata (€6.50) for my starter, which is a Tuscan speciality of thin, salty and herbed fat of pork used as a topping for brushcetta. So basically, bacon fat on toast. Artery-clogging and heart-flutteringly divine, it was the kind of dish that sums up Italian food at its best. Simple yet fascinatingly delicious. Pauline went for the Carpaccio of Porchetta (€9), which is wood-roasted boneless pork slathered in a red onion mustard and a sprinkling of black olives over the top. Again, a simple twist on ham and mustard, and though I doubt the wood-roasting was done in Terra Madre’s kitchen, it was an engaging starter.
Our waiter arrived with tonnarello with rabbit and peppers (€11.50) for Pauline and fettucine with lamb ragout (€13.50) for myself. The pasta is not made in the restaurant, but is imported direct from a two-person pasta-making enterprise whom our waiter couldn’t have spoken more highly of. It was indeed fresh-tasting but it was the sauces that made these bowls of carbohydrates more memorable than most. The rabbit’s subtle flavour worked its magic throughout the sauce, while my lamb ragout was rich and meaty, and disappeared within a few slurps and spins of my fork.
Dessert is an off-menu affair. Our choice on that evening was between a ricotta-filled baked apple, an amaretto cake, and a ricotta and pear tart, each priced at €5 a portion. We deliberated anxiously but finally settled for the baked apple and amaretto cake. Hommagod. So delicious. The baked apple was sticky and scattered with crispy nuts, while my amaretto cake was boozy and swimming in caramel. Our machiatos hit the spot after our desserts, with an artistic face expertly drawn on each of tiny coffees. Not a little tree, or a heart. A whole face. For two starters, two mains, two desserts, two glasses of (unidentified but delicious) red wine and two coffees, our bill came to €62.50.
Dinner here was fun. The casual atmosphere, the food, the waiters, the feeling of being in an as-yet-totally-discovered gem…I can’t wait to go back. As we left, our charming waiter invited us to take a mandarin from a box outside the door, “just delivered from Sicily this morning”. As we walked towards home in the rain, we kept our little piece of Sicily under our umbrellas and wrapped tightly in our hands, in a hope to hold on to a little of the Italy we had enjoyed throughout the evening.
13a Bachelor’s Walk