CHRISTMAS is easily the best time of the year for restaurants but the worst time for diners. Not only do you often get a restricted Christmas menu, but service is never as good, thanks to the room being clogged with less-than-sober office parties.
Earlier this month in the city centre, for example, the office party nearby began to play loudly with their Kris Kindle presents, which included a bicycle horn and a mini-table tennis set -- it was at this point we asked for our bill.
To escape such party revellers, myself, the Engineer and the Teenager decided to avoid town this week and try out the new menu in the restaurant closest to our house.
Bellagio has been established in Terenure for a number of years and underwent a revamp two years ago, installing a large glass front window and an attractive modern interior.
In the last few weeks they have scrapped their old menu, introduced new dishes and, most interestingly, have begun making all their pasta in-house a la Jamie Oliver.
We were greeted warmly, and a quick glance confirmed that there appeared to be no office parties in the room, just lots of couples, families, and what we reckoned was an all-female book club.
The first innovation we noticed was the full pizza-sized focaccia bread which arrived sliced at our table with a bottle of olive oil for drizzling -- we could easily have eaten two.
The wine list is not long, but has an interesting mix of regional Italian wines from which we chose a bottle of Sicilian white made from the Grillo grape. It had a pleasant peach-like fragrance and a crisp finish.
We shared a large portion of mussels and clams, which had been sauteed rather than steamed and were served in a light, fresh-tasting tomato sauce along with some useful toasted bread for dipping
Pan-fried scallops came on a bed of lentils with diced pancetta -- four large fleshy orbs that were nicely caramelised and tender and given an extra hint of sweetness with some orange zest. I was less taken with the grilled polenta on the side, which was rather soggy and added little to the dish.
The Teenager's pizza had a good crisp, yet doughy, base and just the right amount of toppings, and the Engineer's ravioli, filled with lemon sole and sun-dried tomato, was equally good. The pasta had a firm, silky texture, equally as good as any a certain celebrity chef in Dundrum is serving.
Stone bass or Atlantic wreck fish has started to appear on menus recently and is a welcome change from the norm, thanks to its dense texture and reasonably fine flavour, a little like halibut. Bellagio's version was nicely cooked and came with clams, green beans and, again, with some rather disappointing polenta, but this was only a garnish, so I am being rather churlish in pointing it out.
For dessert, we were indecisive, so we went with our waiter's recommendation of a mixed mini-dessert plate.
The best of the four desserts was easily the baked cheesecake with raspberry coulis followed by the triple layered chocolate mousse. The parfait was perhaps a little firm and the tiramisu I found rather too light and spongy, but by this point we were quite full.
Bellagio in the past has introduced elaborate seasonal truffle menus which were very successful, and clearly they have ambitions to be taken seriously.
The new menu is another step in the right direction and I can only wish that other suburban restaurants had similar aspirations.