Review: Balfes in the Westbury Hotel could do better

This new restaurant makes a good first impression but ultimately disappoints

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  • Balfe St
  • (01) 6463353
  • Irish

Dublin has a “Creative Quarter” according to a recent press release. This is news to me. Apparently it’s just off Grafton Street. Maybe it’s where creative accountants go to let their hair down. Or it could be where press release writers are given full creative rein.

Reading between the lines of a recent one, I get the following impression: Here’s a creature. It’s got an orange bill and webbed feet. We’re calling it a giraffe. Everyone’s very excited about this new giraffe. It’s been designed with Parisian and New York influences. We think you’ll like it.

Maybe I will, but let’s nail the duck in the room first. Balfes is a hotel restaurant. It’s part of the Westbury. Which is fine. But it didn’t spring out of the rich soil of the “Creative Quarter”. It’s a revamp of a part of the ground floor of this Dublin hotel, another string to the bow, alongside its fancier Wilde Restaurant.

So let’s see if they can pull it off and make us feel like we’re in an actual restaurant with its own personality and ambition. First impressions are good. Balfe’s has its own entrance and is a roomy, high space. I’m a sucker for a white marble table and they have lovely round ones and navy leathery banquettes. The decor features more vanilla than you’d find in the HB factory in a heatwave. Everything’s covered in a thick coat of cream paint, apart from the dark wood floor.

And things start well. There’s a more than serviceable couple of dips, a nice mush of fennel and chilli and a properly good take on a garlic and roasted tomato dip with gutsy flavour. But it’s let down a bagfull by the bread. The slices of tomato bread were sliced off the loaf long enough ago for their edges to stiffen. And herewith I will give my lecture on bread. It’s the first thing us customers put in our mouths when we come into your establishment, restaurant people. It sets the tone for what will follow. Make it delicious and we’ll be more forgiving of slip-ups or mistakes down the line. Serve it unimpressive and tired (for €4) and we’re off to a crummy start.

My Clare Island gravadlax is a good plate of salmon, but the chunky capers are way too vinegary and the pickled cauliflower is in tiny self-contained florets so any pickling has been ineffective. Slicing the cauliflower gossamer thin and scattering fewer and smaller capers would have made for a much better garnish.

The 10oz rib-eye from the Josper Grill is a typical steak. I’ve yet to be madly impressed with the Josper effect. It seems to cauterise the meat, sealing in the juices and making for a less-than-mouthwatering mouthful.

My seafood dish is in a skillet. So you would imagine things have also been seared into crispness, but reading the menu description to the end you see it’s served in a white wine cream sauce. This means chunks of salmon, cod and mussels floating in the sauce. The menu says cockles, but I don’t find any. It’s hard to see how this isn’t just a chowder. For €18. The only upside is some decent toasted walnut bread.

The side order of onion rings gets forgotten. They arrive without apology or explanation, after we ask for them. They are shoestring thin and oily as a fuel spill. My husband asks for ketchup for his chips. We get a side plate with pocket-sized jars of ketchup on it. It’s a small step up from a stainless steel jug full of sachets. And it’s the moment when the “hotel restaurant” feel starts walking and quaking like a duck.

There’s a glass of cold rice pudding for dessert. It’s as grim as it sounds. There’s coconut and mango in it, so maybe that’s why it’s cold.

So Balfes is a hotel restaurant. It’s not a terrible one. But it’s not a brilliant one either. The room number space on the bill sums it up. It’s cooking for a captive audience, a place where creativity and ambition can sometimes go a little dry around the edges. Dinner for two with a bottle of wine came to €102.

The verdict: 6/10 A nice room, but food that could do better

Food provenance: Irish beef is the height of it

Facilities: Unisex with piped pop music

usic: Dire. Make it stop

Wheelchair access: Yes

Balfes, Balfe Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-646 3353