The tiny corner restaurant in the 19th arrondissement that used to be the super-hip Roseval is now the domain of Italian chef Michele Farnesi, who used to work at the wonderful, now-defunct Rino. Rino’s chef, Giovanni Passerini, now at Passerini, was voted best chef of 2017 by Le Fooding. And Roseval’s former owner/chef Simone Tondo, is now at Tondo. Got that straight?
Back to Dilia. The new owner/chef doesn’t seem to have changed the rustic non-decor one bit. A chandelier is the only perfunctory nod to decoration. Otherwise it’s some basic wooden tables and chairs. We wondered why our round table was the only one covered with a white linen cloth, but after a peek underneath, we decided it was there to cover a less-than-lovely flea-market table.
As we all know, none of this matters if the food is great and the service at least acceptable. And they were, although there were a few glitches along the way.
The two servers were sweet and anxious to please, but not always on the ball when we needed them. Everything started off wonderfully with the lunch menu (€17 for two courses, €21 for three or, Italian-style, with four courses, including pasta, for €32).
The only starter on offer, lieu (pollock), was a treat: perfectly deep-fried in batter tempura-style and served with caper mayonnaise and a salad of excellent cherry tomatoes (I’d like to know where he found them). My friends didn’t think the flavor of the capers came through strongly enough in the mayonnaise, but I thought it was just right.
For the main course, I had the rigatoni with lamb stew, marvelously flavored with mint and pecorino – lovely comfort food.
My friends both ordered the maigre (meager, a low-fat white fish with firm flesh). It was sauced with a delicious saffron-flavored beurre blanc and served with agretti (saltwort) and fava beans. Subtle and soothing.
This is where the first glitch came up, however. My friends loved it at first, but as they got deeper into the fish, it became impossible to cut and was almost bloody in the center.
It was returned to the kitchen and a replacement promised. It took quite a while, but new plates finally appeared. All was forgiven as Diana and Pierre dived back into this stunning dish, especially when the tattooed chef came out, squatted down next to our table and charmed us as he explained that it was the first time he had cooked meager and that he had underestimated the cooking time. In retrospect, it seems to me that he should have tested his recipe before serving it to his customers, but, again, that Italian charm…
While I waited for the new fish dishes to arrive, I tucked into the dessert, a brilliant creamy and intensely chocolatey chocolate tart served with orange slices and crème fraîche. My friends were in heaven with their revised main courses, to the point that Diana refused dessert so that she could savor the taste of it longer.
She did have coffee, however, and that was where the second glitch came up. We had noticed that several of the plates had been chipped, but the coffee cups, obviously handmade ceramics, were seriously chipped all around the lip of the cup. This made for very unpleasant sipping. And, surprisingly in an Italian restaurant, the coffee wasn’t very good.
The verdict: Michele Farnesi is a talented chef, a natural. He just needs to pay more attention to the details that complement and enhance a good meal. But I will go back anyway because I fell for the food – and the charm.