La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita is a cult film, made in 1960 by Italian maestro Federico Fellini. At a superficial level you could call the movie a remake of Roman Holiday but it’s much more than that. Fellini skilfully weaves a commentary on the life and times of a Europe emerging from post-war austerity and plunging headlong into hedonism. The technique employed is episodic.
La Dolce Vita is also the name of a restaurant or, rather, two restaurants in Wexford town, concerning the life and times of which I have written my own script. Here it is.

FLASHBACK. JUMP CUTS OF SCENES, INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR IN A PROVINCIAL IRISH TOWN.
SFX: VERDI OVERTURE, SEGUEING IN SUCCESSION INTO ‘DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND’/ MADRIGAL/ MAHLER’S FIFTH SYMPHONY/NESSUN DORMA SUNG BY BAD TENOR OVER BACKGROUND OF CLINKING GLASSES/MORE VERDI
“In the Sue Ryder shop a pretty girl twirls around in a knockout black, one previous owner (Audrey Hepburn?) dress. In Greenacres, folk are guzzling Jim Fitpatrick’s wittily styled Marilyn Merlot (picture of la Monroe on the label). In St.Ibericus’s, madrigals ring out, in Rose Street Church, a rousing symphony. Elsewhere, pub Pavarottis compete in karaoke contests. Where else, but Wexford in the opera season?”

INTERIOR, NIGHT. RESTAURANT. PAN TO SMARTLY DRESSED MEN AND WOMEN AT TABLE ENJOYING THEIR FOOD, PROPRIETOR GREETING CUSTOMERS, SERVING STAFF ALERT TO DINERS’ NEEDS
SFX: GOOD CONVERSATION
“Inside La Dolce Vita – festively awash with penguin suits, chiffon and tulle – music, background or foreground, isn’t on the bill of fare. Diners have to make do with the buzz of conversation, the clash of cutlery and the clink of glasses, a policy meeting with my wholehearted approval.
Ruby and Pearl praise the bordello pink walls, a colour they feel, simpatico. The dining chairs are prettily upholstered and the light beech tables bereft of tablecloths, for a quick turnaround I’d say. Hi-lux lighting allows you to see what you were eating and judge the colour of the wine, which again I commend – though R and P who place a premium on ‘atmosphere’ find my take a tad austere. Chef proprietor Roberto Pons is all the atmosphere the place needs – touring the tables bestowing handshakes, bear hugs and kisses as appropriate.
A pleasant local girl presents us with a menu. The whole service operation is efficient, friendly, attentive but not in your face. Everyone is on their toes, with Roberto’s wife Celine directing the troops in between totting up bills.
Bread is wholesome, fresh, white, great for mopping up sauces. Antipasti are all winners; as is our habit we trade morsels so in the end it is hard to remember who’s ordered what. Ruby and Pearl take time out while I climb into a bowl of pasta that would have done duty as a main course. Wearying of my grunts of satisfaction, they eventually join me in spearing morsels of garlicky Italian sausage trapped in pasta ears, rolling them round in sticky, pungent, herb-flecked mushroom sauce before despatching them for the palate’s approval.”

C/U MAN OF AMPLE DIMENSIONS GREEDILY MOPPING UP LAST REMNANTS OF SAUCE WITH A TRANCHE OF OLIVE BREAD
“My wild venison is the tour de force. Roberto serves up thick slices of roasted saddle, tender yet Midas-richly flavoursome, king of a castle whose foundations are a bedrock of crisp Dutch cabbage, whose moat is a wine-dark mysterious juniper berry sauce… ..brilliant stuff, the apotheosis of rustic Italian family style cooking. Wonderful ingredients, faithfully translated by an intuitive cook who comprehends what sympathetic saucing is about. Desserts reinforce the vote of confidence: I’m a panna cotta tifoso and this rum, lemon and vanilla variant will squirt bubbly from the podium. The warm pear and chocolate torte with its crumbly, crunchy, feather light base pleases all. (La Dolce Vita is) an exceptional restaurant, providing authentic, serious, mouth-watering, satisfying comfort eating of the highest order. A total lack of ephemera and gimmickry: no wayward spicing, no towering gothic piles, no pylons of spun sugar, no pointillist painting with jus or coulis…”
I wrote the above back in 2002. Alas, the review never appeared for, the very next week, Roberto concluded the sale of his lease, upped sticks and went to put his feet up. Or so we thought. But…

FAST FORWARD.
INTERIOR, DAY, A DIFFERENT RESTAURANT. THE SAME PROPRIETOR, CLAD IN CHEF’S APRON, IS GREETING CUSTOMERS.
PAN TO DINERS ENJOYING THEIR MEAL
SFX: GOOD COVERSATION
It’s lunchtime on New Year’s Eve, 2004. Pearl and I are sitting in a new Dolce Vita, a stone’s throw away from the previous incarnation. There are differences. For a start, the Mk II version opens early and closes at 5pm – Celine, in particular, appreciates the fact that “We’ve now got a life.” Innovations include a retail counter where you can buy fine hay-flavoured ham and the best mortadella I’ve had this side of Bologna, as well as Italian cheeses in pristine condition. Out have gone the large tables and the linen napkins that denote a ‘serious’ restaurant, in favour of an informal ambience.
Yet the food remains as serious as ever. “Best pasta I’ve had in my life” was a comment from an adjacent table. The bread was as good as we remembered. A shared antipasto misto proved an attractively arranged treasure trove of edible delights. Pearl’s crespelle with ricotta cheese was delicate, ethereal – though she was not a fan of the accompanying salad – “Too much raw pepper and cucumber.”

C/U MAN OF AMPLE DIMENSIONS GREEDILY MOPPING UP LAST REMNANTS OF SAUCE WITH A TRANCHE OF OLIVE BREAD
My cotechino sausage with braised lentils was, in total contrast, appropriately robust and satisfying, so much so I begged the recipe afterwards. Wine on the short list is enthusiastically sourced, chosen to complement the food and much is available by the glass. I happened to know Robert is passionate about his Arneis and when, seeking a glass of red to follow, Celine ventured “I’ve just opened a nice Rosso Conero.” And the panna cotta – ah, the panna cotta!
If you are in the area, La Dolce Vita is a ‘must dine’. Problem is they don’t take bookings and there’s invariably a queue at lunchtime. To paraphrase the old election slogan “Eat early, eat often.” In a country where Italian food is all too often a lowest common denominator phenomenon, unimaginative, unauthentic or just plain crap, Roberto Pons’ cooking at La Dolce Vita is both a monument saying “Behold! This is it” and a signpost pointing the way to go for others. In a culinary genre depending for success on the meticulous execution of simple concepts the difference between the mundane and the sublime is hard to define. Nevertheless, I believe, you’ll know it when you taste it.
For the record, all we ate cost e76, ex-service including 6 glasses of wine.

FADE TO CLOSE. SFX: SIGHS OF SATISFACTION

La Dolce Vita, Trimmer’s Lane, Wexford. Tel: (053) 70806. Mon-Sat 9am – 5pm