Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: George Voronov
Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: George Voronov
Sprezzatura is an effortlessly chic spot. The bright-eyed friendly staff elevate the two-tone dark sultry aesthetic in a way that feels both authentic and distinctly Irish. The space announced itself on the restaurant scene in 2019 like a nod from a hot stranger that makes you feel attractive. You couldn’t help but be drawn to it. There hasn’t been another casual restaurant as talked about as this since the Crackbird ear of 09.
Collaboration like this series of specials in aid of the Dublin Simon Community is fundamental to the evolution of the Irish food scene. I’ve written before about how Dublin is ripe for cross-pollination. Here Sprezzatura is picking its fruit at the right time to make some good squishy.
Daniel Lambert is most well known among one age group as one of Ireland’s most successful FoodTok-ers and to another as the jolly chef from Ireland AM. He manages to straddle the generational divide with the kind of ease usually reserved for Michael D Higgins.
This year he released his first cookbook Lush published by Harper Collins. It’s a whimsical book, as cookbooks go. It features chapters such as Potato Party, The Cure, and So Wrong But So Right. He has made himself a champion of comfort food, cooking, and eating, so this foray into pasta is right up his street.
A dish whose principal ingredients are eggs and bacon was always going to be a shoo-in for Lambert. But, if you are familiar with his work, apart from potatoes, there are a few things he loves more. So when you eat this Carbonara, you strap yourself in and enter the comfort zone.
As with most Italian classics, it has a passionately disputed history. However, most people accept that it likely originated in or near Rome.
Carbonara is apparently named after the carbonai or charcoal burners. Allegedly it got its moniker because it was a favourite of these grimy men who spent months at a time deep in the Apennines. These lads relied on easily transportable foods, stored and then prepared over a fire.
Sophia Loren claims to have happened upon a group of these gents while filming Two Women in the mountains in the late fifties – who obligingly cooked her a slap-up carbonara lunch.
The ever glamourous Sofia, though, isn’t the most reliable food historian. Most people genuinely believe the whole carbonaio thing is a romantic urban legend. Many suggest instead that local cooks created the dish for American GIs who always had rations of bacon and eggs. Roman Boomers dispute this notion claiming they remember enjoying Carbonara long before the yanks entered the war.
My money is on the theory that the name simply refers to the ample amount of black pepper that tops the dish. Most traditional carbonaras are covered in so much pepper that they look like they have been seasoned with charcoal.
Either way, Carbonara is considered such a classic nowadays that it’s typically a mainstay on a menu and less of a special. But not a Sprezzatura. This pasta spot shifts and changes its menu seasonally, so you don’t always find the classics on its menu.
What the Lambert collab does here, however, is give you an excuse to go get decadent. So for one week only, you have a legitimate reason to indulge in a comforting silky pasta dish. Less cheesy than the OG Sprezzatura this one is a fresh number perfect for September comfort food.
Autumn is the season for nostalgic eating. The turning of the weather and the back-to-school of it all makes you seek out familiarity in your food. But, of course, what counts as comfort food differs from person to person. But Carbonara has such broad appeal because its hold on Ireland started early. We may have bastardised it and forever soured our relationships with Italians by adding cream or mushrooms, or even cream of mushroom soup. Still, we did all have Carbonara as kids, and we seek it out sometimes because it reminds us of those times.
Pasta makes up at least three-quarters of a carbonara, but Sprezzatura has that down to a fine scientific art form. It never disappoints. Here the real test is the sauce. Lambert’s sauce is less cheesy than the OG Sprezzatura offering. Instead, it leans heavier on the egg, making it lighter, perfect for this end-of-summer-coming-of-autumn chill weather we’ve been having.
This isn’t a pasta dish which asks for a delicate sprinkle of parmesan just before serving: no, Carbonara demands an unbelievable amount of cheese.
Traditional Italian Carbonara is classic comfort food at its very best. Lambert’s recipe uses just a handful of ingredients, but it delivers the affection you craved as a child in spades. So if you’re looking for a comforting classic this week, it is the dish to beeline for.
Elsewhere on CHAR: Mustard is Better Than Ketchup, Fact