With a reputation for lively dining and decent Italian food this long-running Dublin restaurants long been a favourite of politicians and media types, although falling out of favour in recent years, following a series of high profile changes. Now the central restaurant, with its convivial terrace tucked off Merrion Row, has been taken over by the owners of the successful Fiorentina on Parliament Street and is showing reassuring signs of being back on track.
The dining room hasn’t changed too dramatically, with its low ceiling, small linen-clad tables, banquettes, subtle lighting, a little bar and lovely terrace that’s a charm on a warm summer’s night. It’s an intimate, comfortable space that works well for lunch or dinner, groups or dates.
The cooking is Italian with fresh pasta, quality meat and wonderful seafood all deliciously represented. Portions are generous, and the homemade pasta – maybe gnocchi with clams, pappardelle with braised rabbit legs and wild mushroom jus or linguini with Dublin bay prawns, garlic and n’duja butter – is all made with care in-house by Head Chef Denis Massey and his team.
Daily specials, maybe a wonderful, flavour-packed seafood stew crammed with plump shellfish, are always worth considering. From colourful antipasti offerings (maybe 24-month prosciutto di Parma, buffalo mozzarella, pesto, grilled vegetables and beetroot bruschetta) to the pitch-perfect tiramisu, eating here is a pleasure. While an occasional dish may fall short of expectations, overall there’s serious skill and love poured into the fare.
Wines are a big deal here, with Italian favourites featuring strongly. A short selection of wines by the glass and carafe is a welcome touch.
The staff, led by Manager, Graziano Careddu, are extremely friendly, exuding great Italian charm - although, while they are delightfully helpful, they can be thin on the ground when diners need help, whether it’s requesting more water or paying the bill. This minor shortfall is the only low point of an otherwise quality dining experience.
The Unicorn is always delightful but it is particularly charming in summer, as the doors open out onto a terrace which is used for al fresco dining in fine weather.