Chesterfields Brasserie: Trying to up the game in hotel dining
I’ve only passed Dublin’s Ashling Hotel at a heck of a lick in a car or the Luas, so have never noticed the plaque on the wall. The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein lived and worked here for eight months in the late 1940s, when it was Ross’s Hotel.
The philosopher was not a foodie. At a 1945 dinner party he once served a “pièce de résistance of powdered eggs”. In the spirit of honesty his guest told him they were dreadful and Wittgenstein replied that if they were good enough for him they were good enough for his guest.
A friend who takes a much less ascetic approach to food has heard dinner isn’t half bad here since the hotel’s reinvention. It has undergone a bling-tastic makeover to take it into a new age of sparkly black granite and chandeliers.
Its restaurant is called Chesterfields, not after the couch (there isn’t a single buttoned-down leather one to be seen) but after the 18th-century lord lieutenant who planted those handsome elm and chestnut trees in his garden, which happened to be the Phoenix Park.
The whole place has the feel of an airport hotel in any city, with the restaurant at the front separated from the bar by a filmy black curtain. There are flowery table runners, which seem to be torn off a roll. The friendly young wait staff are dressed in waistcoats and white shirts and it’s busy for a Tuesday night.
The diningroom has that distinctive hotel diningroom smell: butter with an underlying note of boiled vegetables. A better sign is a lobster tank to one side. Heaven knows what Wittgenstein would have made of the walk of shame after you’ve chosen which creature is going to die for your dinner. I’ll be having the biggest one, please.
Philosophical debate aside, the lobster option is €29, which, if it’s good, sounds like my kind of loss-leader.
First up, a little heart-sink when the starters arrive on two chunky slates. Here the fork-grating slates have been cut into circles, so any hope is gone that they can be repurposed into roof tiles after the building slump ends.
Two slices of tasty, but rubbery, Rathdrum pigeon are balanced on a couple of spoons of bacon chunks in gravy with a sticky jam port-wine syrup circling outside. A second starter of smoked duck liver pâté is good: a moussy slab of pâté and light, airy, just-toasted brioche, but no taste of smoke.
My lobster arrives on a plate (phew). It’s a smidgeon overcooked. Most of the garlic butter is on the side so there is no butter bath to compensate for it being a little too long on the boil.
A second main course of rib-eye steak is served on a wooden board with the juices running into a little gutter around the elements. Some good twice-fried chunky chips are piled up Jenga-style, which all feels quite retro. Both main courses come with the inevitable side dish of watery boiled vegetables. Lest we forget we’re eating in a hotel.
A summer fruits (which is stretching it in October) shortbread for dessert is a duff finish: three disks of pastry-like shortbread and piped cream with fruit that looks better than it tastes.
Most of the diners have room numbers to write at the end of their bills and, as reasonably priced hotel dinners go, this is much better than average. A little more care in the kitchen would take it up a notch to a place where the menu eats as good as it reads.
Dinner for two with two glasses of wine came to €82.40.
THE VERDICT: 6/10. Good ideas and ingredients but the execution could be better
Chesterfields Brasserie, Ashling Hotel, Parkgate Street, Dublin 1
Facilities: Hotel standard
Music: Light background pop
Vegetarian options: Three starters, only one main
Food provenance: Good. Kilmore Quay cod, Rathdrum pigeon and lobsters supplied by Wrights
Wheelchair access: Yes