Drawing inspiration from its location on the banks of the River Boyne, Il Ponte, the latest addition to Drogheda's dining scene, lives up to its translated name as 'the bridge' - perfectly joining quality Italian food with lovely service.
Having grown up just outside of this Co. Louth town, I've seen my fair share of restaurants come and go, soon learning that in a town as local as Drogheda people have their firm favourites, no matter how trendy a new spot is.
Il Ponte however, is a lot more than just a fleeting trend.
"On a mission to redefine Italian cuisine in the locality", the restaurant recently re-opened in its current guise in the D Hotel, along with a complete revamp of the hotel bar into a slick, dimly lit cocktail bar with exposed stone walls.
The restaurant itself looks out onto the river, and on a fab sunny evening (such as yesterday) the whole room is completely filled with light. All that sun combined with the "traditional" red and white checked tablecloths and you could almost, almost think you had stopped off in a small pizzeria in Sorrento.
The only offsetting thing? A seriously strange Spotify playlist of classic American rock.
'You Give Love A Bad Name' by Bon Jovi is not what you expect to hear in an Italian bistro, but a nice chilled glass of a slightly sweet French rose while waiting for my family to arrive (my forever, eternally late, dear family) went down a treat and helped to drown it out.
We then got started with the most important issue of the night: ordering a nice cold bottle of Pinot Grigo from the very attentive and very lovely Louise.
The menu is divided up into Starters, Pasta, Pizza, Grill, and Sides, and trust me when I say there's something for everyone. We went with one Gran Tagliere di Antipasto all Italiana (€15.95), which says serves two, and the Gamberi Piccanti (€8.95), pan fried tiger prawns with chilli, garlic, cherry tomato and white wine.
And O.M.G. That antipasto is what meat 'n' cheese dreams are made of. A rich black olive tapenade, meats including Mortadella, Prosciutto, Salami Milano and a huuuge portion of cheeses, made up of Gorgonzola Dolce, Fontina, and (I think) a chilli Asiago made up this platter of pure joy.
A hot-outta-the-oven olive oil foccacia that came with meant that that this genuinely could have done us as a main. Not that we were complaining.
Prawns were juicy and tender and yum, and while the little side salad garnish was probs unnecessary, these were very quickly gobbled up.
While we were digging in, the place soon started to fill up, which for a Tuesday night outside of Dublin is always nice to see.
Mains of the evening for us were the Linguine alla Carbonara (€11.95), aka the Italian classic with pancetta, parmigiana, pecorino and egg yolk (no cream as is the only right and proper way), a Spinaci Pizza (€10.95) with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh baby spinach, chilli and garlic, and the Stufato di Frutti di Mare (€15.95), a baked fillet of salmon served on a bed of stewed mussels, clams & prawns infused with garlic.
The pizza was stonebaked, and while usually I'm a woodfired base gal, the garlicky-spinach and fresh gooey mozzarella was delish. Perfectly flaky salmon added a much needed lightness after stuffing my face with so much warm bread, and the clams and mussels had just the right amount of taste of the sea off them.
No prawns were to be found on the plate, but the generous helping of shellfish meant I didn't even realise they were missing - perhaps the dish is perfect just like this?
A ginormous, and I mean HUGE, plate of carbonara with fresh Parmesan on the side kinda stole the show. Chunky pieces of pancetta clung to the silky linguine, and the creamy coating was just the right amount of heavy.
Dessert options such as the homemade white chocolate brulee biscuit and raspberry sorbet and the banana and toffee crepe tempted us, but we just couldn't fit another mouthful in.
We couldn't just end the evening there though, we're not complete monsters (even if we did say no to dessert for probably the first and only time), so a creamy cocktail in the adjoining bar, The Hops, was decided on.
This ultra-cool bar looks quite similar to the Camden Exchange, with metal grills containing displays of bottles, stained glass lanterns and sleek dark leather stools scattered around. An Espresso Martini finished off what was one of the nicest nights I've had in Drogheda for quite a while.
Solid food, deadly service and right next door to a cocktail bar? Yep, Il Ponte is sure to become a favourite haunting spot of not only locals, but anyone who wants a chilled comfort meal with an Italian edge.
We're already looking forward to getting dessert next time. Yum.