To most people, Temple Bar is for the tourists, with hoards of bars playing Whiskey in Jar, hen parties teetering on the cobbles and rowdy boys cheering pints. It’s not the first place you would think of when you’re craving Italian cuisine, however, tucked away on Crow Street, there is an Italian restaurant so good that everyone talks about it, and I mean everyone. For the past three years or so, Rosa Madre has been making waves on the Dublin dining scene, which we sampled on our review last year.
I sat down with owner Luca di Marzio to find out how this charismatic Roman is changing Irish diners’ perceptions of what authentic Italian food really is. Luca’s idea was to bring something new to Dublin – ‘but we have lots of Italian restaurants in Dublin’, I hear you yell. Well, not like this we don’t. Having lived in Dublin for 12 years and eaten in lots of Italian restaurants, Luca noticed there was something missing. Diners in Dublin saw Italian food as just pizza and pasta and were missing out on the classic style of Italian restaurants.
Luca hails from Rome where diners go out to eat seafood, not pasta. The latter is a dish that is regularly cooked at home so when you dine out, you treat yourself and enjoy something special. When Italian’s dine out they prefer the chef to do hard work of preparing the fish, hence why most don’t order the basic pasta and pizza. Luca says when you order seafood in a restaurant “you can really show off, especially if you are trying to charm a date.”
Speaking about his now famous fresh fish display, Luca tells me when he first opened, guests to the restaurant were surprised at the display and perhaps a little apprehensive. In Temple Bar, you can expect to find cheap and cheerful Italian venues, mostly aimed at tourists. However in Rosa Madre, with its windows mysteriously covered with blinds, you will find a charming and romantic place, far from your run of the mill Italian.
it’s different, it’s unique”
Luca built up years of experience working in London, Spain and of course Italy until he landed in The Westbury where he worked for six years. Starting as a waiter, he worked his way up to Assistant Manager, before meeting his wife, who was also working there. Upon meeting his wife, Luca transferred to the bar, so he and his wife could keep their work/personal relationship a little more separate.
Here he began entering cocktail competitions where he says “I saw myself as Tom Cruise behind the bar”. During his time at The Westbury, he learned about the high-class clientele and he tells me he was very career driven and was even named employee of the year.
I saw myself as Tom Cruise behind the bar”
Reminiscing over one of his proudest moments, Luca remembers when John Gallagher, the owner of The Westbury, came to dinner at Rosa Madre. Initially, Gallagher didn’t know that Luca was the man behind the eatery. From humble beginnings as a waiter to owning his business, Luca’s story is one of hard work and determination.
Rosa Madre hailed as a holy grail for seafood, Luca says “I love the local Irish produce”. When he first met with local suppliers, Luca found out that Ireland had more variety of fish then he expected. Luca believes Ireland has some of the best seafood in the world, such as sumptuous shellfish like the prized Dublin Bay prawns and oysters.
Another selling point for our fantastic Irish produce is that the price of the produce compared to Italy is much lower. For example, Luca informs me, one oyster in Italy could cost €5.99 whereas in Ireland if you charge more than €2.50 customers won’t be too happy. The menu at Rosa Madre can change daily depending on what his suppliers have and he works with five or six different suppliers who each specialise in different fish. While of course, you’ll find pasta on the menu at Rosa Madre, Luca is passionate about showcasing authentic Italian food like seafood, to his diners.
The speciality dish of Rosa Madre has to be the salt-crusted sea bass. This technique is very old Luca tells me and it works with chicken as well, but mainly fish is used.
I believe the best way of cooking fish is not to touch it too much with lots of salt or batter – it’s the Italian way”
This way of cooking means the fish doesn’t lose any flavour or moisture. When the fish is is finished cooking in the oven, it is then brought to the table for a theatrical display. The salt crust is broken and the entire fish is filleted at the table. This element of drama adds something extra special to a guest’s experience and is telling of what guests can expect from an evening at Rosa Madre.
While the food and the abience play a huge role at Rosa Madre, fine wine, of course, adds to any good meal. Another passion of Luca’s is Champagne. About five or six years ago Luca bought his first expensive bottle of wine and he’s been hooked ever since.
I believe everybody should drink more Champagne”
Luca jokes as he says Italy might take away his passport as it seems this Italian prefers the French bubbly over Italian Prosecco. Luca is also social media savvy – he tells me every night he opens up a bottle of Champagne and shows it to his followers on Instagram. This, he believes, will inspire people to try more of this bubbly beverage that he is so passionate about.
He sources his wine from twenty different suppliers as he wants an interesting wine list. Luca and his staff regularly go to wine tastings. Rosa Madre (luckily) closes for lunch and with the staff in tow Luca heads off to taste the wines, he says it’s important for the staff to know what exactly they are selling. Up to 60%-70% of the wine list is made up of Italian wines with the rest hailing from around the world.
Luca tells me his favourite part of the job is doing the orders for the kitchen, he likes to be heavily involved in what ingredients come into the kitchen. I wonder how such a passionate business owner balances running such a busy restaurant with his family life. Luca’s Sunday’s are usually spent with this family by his side, bringing his children to the park to play football and taking them for dinner, “they love pizza”, he tells me, the Italian in them shining through.
One thing I always ask chefs, waiters or restaurant owners is where do they themselves eat. When the kitchen is closed up and the tables are turned and it’s their chance to be wined and dined, where do they go? Luca tells me he likes to go for a drink in Piglet, a gorgeous little wine bar on Cow’s Lane, or if time allows (and a babysitter has been arranged) he likes to treat himself and head to The Greenhouse or Chapter One and “do it the right way”.
It’s no secret that Ireland is suffering from a serious shortage of chefs, with kitchens crying out for culinary hands, and the issue has not skipped past Rosa Madre. Luca tells me at one stage he was telling people the restaurant was fully booked, as there weren’t enough chefs in the kitchen to accommodate a full restaurant, and he occasionally had to close a few days. This only added fuel to the fire and Luca said to himself that this would never happen again.
Today he has six chefs in the kitchen and is always on the hunt for new talent. Within his restaurant, he will train the kitchen porter or any floor staff who have an interest in cooking. Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea given the current climate, restaurants are calling for chefs with very little response when perhaps the answer is already under their roof. Luca says he looks for someone polite and respectful and that one can learn the technical side of things.
Coming near the end of our conversation I ask Luca what his biggest achievement is, to which he replies there’s been so many. He tells me he’s been “blessed” with the success he has worked so hard for. He enjoys life a little bit more now that he can take more time off and has a healthy work/life balance.
I’m living the dream”
Looking to the future Luca says he always wants to come up with new and fresh ideas. A true love of his is Champagne, which he wants to promote more in Ireland. He wants to continue to work hard, to find new ingredients and believe in his staff and train them within the hospitality industry. Luca says you must always be sharp and to update the menu and keep it fresh. While Rosa Madre has already made a name for itself in Ireland it seems to me that this is just the beginning of a beautiful Italian love affair between the restaurant and the public.
For more information, see www.rosamadre.ie
Sinéad is a Culinary Arts graduate from DIT. She is a passionate cook with a love of fine dining and modern Irish cuisine. A gin lover, Sinéad loves seeking out cosy new pubs and sampling a variety of craft beers.
If she’s not dining out, Sinéad loves travelling the world exploring new cultures and cuisines. Working with TheTaste allows Sinéad to fully immerse herself in the Irish food industry.