The decor may be dubious, but the cooking at this hotel restaurant is outstanding, writes CATHERINE CLEARY
If we judge books by covers do we rate restaurants by their decor? I’m the first to confess a library of prejudices when it comes to my surroundings. And restaurant decor has become a series of cues designed to set us up for what comes on the plate.
So my inner decor snob makes a couple of silent assumptions as I pull up a padded chair in Samphire, the hotel dining room of the Waterside House Hotel in the north Dublin seaside town of Donabate. There’s a wine glass filled with shells, water, blue beads and a tealight. The curtains are made of a filmy shockingly blue material. Chocolate boxy canvases of lighthouses and seaside stuff are hung around the room. There’s a wall of mirrors. The fitted carpet is brown and flowery.
Not hot, as we say in magazines. And not hot in the literal sense. We’re given a seat by the window, which must be bliss on a summer’s evening, but proximity to that much glass with a black winter sea beyond is not cosy. We move to a table by the wall which is a big improvement.
When the dishes come from the kitchen all these grumbles dissolve. It starts with two lovely loaves of delightful bread, dollshouse size, one tomato and one brown soda loaf, with soft butter (the kitchen must be warmer than the dining room) and a gorgeous black olive tapenade. Assumptions overturned. Bad curtains do not a bad restaurant make.
Before the starters arrive we get a mini cappuccino cup with a “tomato and basil” soup. The vivid red soup is thick and piping hot and it’s topped with a truffle foam. It tastes like the tomato soup my mother used to make, with a flourish of cheffiness. And that sets the theme for our dinner, food that is both cooking and cheffing, both equally good.
The cheffing is in the parsnip crisps that sit on top of three plump, perfectly-seared scallops. They’re in my garlic and potato soup, which is more like a warm nutty sauce to the seafood. Marsh samphire is draped over it.
Juliana’s fish cake jumps into the chip shop realm. If she has a gripe, it’s that the fish cake is more of a potato cake with a few shards of salmon and smoked fish in the floury depths. But the Japanese panko crumb is tasty and a lovely tartare and side salad complete it.