The Seafood Interview supported by BIM - Marco Roccasalvo of Campo de' Fiori

BIM Seafood Circle

This month Marilyn Bright talks to Marco Roccasalvo of Campo de' Fiori on the seafront in Bray - where seafood is a natural speciality

“The best Italian restaurant in Ireland is Campo de’ Fiori in Bray”. Whatever about rosettes and plaques, recommendations don't come more heartfelt than this from a homesick Italian taxi driver. Marco Roccasalvo’s deft fusion of classical Italian cooking with best Irish produce has won a following of good food lovers that extends far beyond nostalgic ex-pats.

Named for the famous field of flowers square in Rome, Campo de’ Fiori opened in its present location six years ago in a defunct restaurant on Bray’s seafront. “It was in a terrible state,” Marco remembers. “A normal person would have walked away, but I felt it had something special so we got gloves and masks and set to - cleaning and painting and hammering. This place is handmade, just like all our food.”

Marco RoccasalvoWith rollers of the Irish sea visible just beyond the Esplanade, it was natural that seafood would be a menu specialty. Antipasto del pescatore is the impressive interpretation of the seafood platter starter, with a selection of fish dishes of the day served one after another in the Italian tradition. In impepata di cozze, rope-grown Cork mussels are given seasonings as old as ancient Rome - garlic, black pepper, white wine and parsley.

Lobster has become a house speciality, currently featuring in no less than four different dishes. Asticizzando is a starter plate of lobster salad, lobster ravioli and salmon soufflé with cauliflower mousse. Whole grilled lobster is seasoned with lemon, herbs and olive oil, or sautéed in a pan with mussels, prawns and cherry tomatoes, and can be ordered on or off the shell. Tonarelli all’ astice is a signature dish of homemade egg spaghetti with a half lobster and prawns in Marco's ragu sauce with Italian hill tomatoes.

Marco's mother cooked in a Roman seminary for 40 years and an uncle was head chef at the prestigious Ristorante Cesarina in Piedmonte, “So talk at home was always about food,” he remembers. “I took cooking courses and, at the age of 23, I opened the first gastropub in Rome and a second one later in Castelgondolfo.”

The move to Ireland came about ten years ago when Marco decided that a change of life and a new venture was in order. When a look around England convinced him it was “too big and too busy”, he came to visit friends in Athlone and ended up staying. Taking various cheffing jobs gave him a chance to explore locations as diverse as Cork, Belfast and Donegal before finding what he was looking for on the Wicklow coast.

Initially opening around the corner from the present restaurant (in the premises now occupied by the Campo de’ Fiori Risto Market) Marco quickly built a reputation with his own interpretations of authentic Italian dishes made with ingredients as fresh and local as possible. “Good food starts with good ingredients,” he emphasises and goes on to cast scorn on “fake Italian food” - the likes of pineapple on pizza and chips with lasagne. And not many people know that a real Italian would never have chicken on pizza or in pasta dishes.

Healthy eating trends are reflected on Marco's menu too. The familiar fritto misto becomes grigliata mista, with fresh seafood grilled rather than deep-fried. Aubergine slices for the Neapolitan dish of melanzane parmigiana by-pass the traditional fryer and get a brush of olive oil before baking in the oven. Fresh vegetables are sparked with Italian seasonings like the roast potatoes with garlic and rosemary, spinach sautéed with butter and Parmesan and broccoli saltata pan-seared with garlic, chilli flakes and olive oil.

Gluten-free dishes are flagged on the menu and gluten-free pasta is available, or customers can opt for carnaroli rice to replace pasta in any of the dishes, Marco points out that substitutions are not a problem because everything is cooked from fresh as ordered. “Slow-cooked ragu is the only sauce made in advance, “Marco says. “'We don’t even cut the meat until it’s ordered.”

This philosophy is enthusiastically expressed in Marco’s book Buon Appetito (€20, online from, a cookbook that ‘shares the secrets of creating delicious Italian food at home using the everyday ingredients we are all familiar with’ - and, as Marco has a special affinity with fish, that includes plenty of Irish seafood.

Marco Roccasalvo with LobstersHe takes a very practical approach to buying (‘How can you tell when fish is fresh?’), cleaning and preparation as well as giving a great range of recipes (see sample below). Lobster is a favourite with Marco, as it is for many other people, and he explains clearly how to deal with it at home - including a beautifully simple recipe for boiled lobster.

Risto Market around the corner is the informal daytime branch of Campo de’ Fiori, reminiscent of the Italian groceria combination of delicatessen and snack bar. Billed as an ' Aladdin's cave of delights', shelves are bursting with Italian specialties including 24 month aged Parmesan and 25 different cheeses as well as the fresh handmade pastas and breads made daily for the shop and restaurant. The soft panino rolls that make Italian style sandwiches are listed as ‘pizzino’, an Italian in-joke that refers to messages smuggled in bread by an imprisoned mafia boss.

Marco reflects that the daytime deli has been an important part of post-tiger survival, where busy customers can have a glass of wins and order pizza by the slice or pick up fresh pasta and homemade sauces for wieals at home.

“At the height of the boom, the restaurant was booked out every night. Weekends are still busy, but weekday business is gradually building again and we have a ‘Cheap and Chic’ tasting menu which brings in customers when it’s less busy.”

From lobster ravioli, fat Donegal oysters and aged hereford beef in Campo de' Fiori to rustic pizza and lasagne classics “like Momma’s” in Risto Market, this corner of Bray seafront offers Mediterranean flavour to suit every pocket.

RECIPE (from Buon Appetito, The Campo de Fiori Cookbook):

San Pietro con cozze e vongole - John Dory with mussels and clamsSan Pietro con cozze e vongole - John Dory with mussels and clams

“One of my signature culinary traits is to accompany fillets of fish with shellfish. I have used this combination in many of my dishes at Campo de' Fiori and I think it works particularly well with fish that have a delicate flavour. This recipe combines John Dory with the salty taste of shellfish and a light parsley pesto. You can substitute the John Dory with cod, sea bass, sea bream, hake or turbot. But do try it with the John Dory first. It's a lovely, tasty dish.”

Serves 2

For the pesto
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
30ml extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of half lemon
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
For the fish
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, halved
2 John Dory fillets (about 200g)
30ml dry white wine
20 mussels, washed and debearded
20 clams, washed

Start by making the pesto. Wash and dry the parsley and chop it up. Place it in a deep plastic container suitable for use with a hand blender and add 30ml of oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the lemon juice and some freshly ground black pepper. Blend with the hand blender until you obtain a fairly liquid pesto. Add a little extra oil if the pesto seems too creamy.

To prepare the fish, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick pan (with a lid) over a medium heat and add the garlic. Once the garlic has begun to brown, place the fish in the pan, skin side up.

Cook over a medium heat for 3 minutes and then use a spatula to carefully turn the fish over. Then add the wine, mussels and clams. Cover with the lid and increase the heat to maximum for about 3 minutes, until all the shells are open.

Remove from the heat and serve on warmed wide-brim plates. If you like you can remove the mussels and clams from their shells and arrange them as you see in the photo. Pour over the cooking juices and accompany with pesto.

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