Review: Disappointing start from Dublin's favourite new restaurant

The food ambitions of this handsome restaurant are admirable but a simpler start might have worked better

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  • Fusion

It’s the restaurant group that’s eating Dublin and this is their most ambitious bite yet. Roberta’s is fabulous in lots of ways, not least for being a dolled up gem on the Liffey for people to enjoy. I watched a man on a ladder painting the word “Dollard” gold in the original cut stone recently, adding bling to the faded wallpaper of a long empty city centre building. 

Dollard House is a 19th century printworks bought by U2 with a view to expanding their Clarence Hotel until the crash felled the ambitious vision of starchitect Norman Foster. When the money tide started lapping again Fallon and Byrne announced plans for a restaurant, microbrewery and food shop. But proposed opening dates came and went, F&B focused its sights on Rathmines and Dollard House remained dark.  

Now the Press Up Entertainment Group has poured cash into the place and opened Roberta’s as the first step in a plan that includes a food shop and second restaurant. Young guns Press Up are behind a scatter of the city’s trendiest venues, including the Dean Hotel, Angelina’s and Peruke and Periwig. 

You enter Roberta’s from the back on the Essex Street East side through a doorway with a small neon sign overhead. Up several flights of quiet stairs (there is also a lift), past walls clad in black painted timber you step into a huge room, with exposed brick and steel and bauble lights around windows. They remind me of the mirrors in the Muppets dressing rooms, all Scooter with a clipboard and “15 seconds to curtain Mr Belafonte”. 

Big booths

We get our table on this Temple Bar side with its handsome herringbone timber floor, booths big as hot tubs and expensive chairs. There are a lot of curated ensembles, clean lines and contouring. And that’s just the clientele. In the middle is a 360 degree bar under a glass pyramid roof (like the Octagon Bar without the sensory deprivation). On the other side overlooking the Liffey there are more diningrooms, all big sky and light and gorgeous river views. 

Putting the word 'crispy' in a menu description is a hostage to fortune. The skin on my cod is about as crisp as a flaccid fiver

The hams hanging in front of the kitchen and the menu both say we take food seriously (we wear our duck hearts on our sleeves) but not too seriously (relax folks, there’s pizza). It reads like a menu for a crowd that follows chefs on Instagram. They serve it seven nights a week. Could this finally be the birth of a big beast New York scale restaurant where they crank out beautiful food in a great big room? 

Smoked mayonnaise

Those duck hearts are a bit rubbery after their wood-firing but properly tasty and they come with a spoon-licking smoked mayonnaise. Unfortunately, that mayo will be the best thing I eat all night. And there are far too few small blobs of it on the plate. There’s a kohlrabi remoulade that’s watery rather than mustardy. Oxtail potstickers are good but they seem to have missed the potsticking bit where they get sticky on the bottom from contact with the pot. In this bowl the stickiness comes from a sauce so sweet it could be made from boiled down Haribo. It might have worked with some serious tang but that’s not there. 

Putting the word “crispy” in a menu description is a hostage to fortune. The skin on my cod is about as crisp as a flaccid fiver. The fish is sitting on top of a tangle of celeriac cut cleverly into pappardelle but tasting watery as only a root vegetable can when it’s sliced thinly and boiled. Back away from the spiraliser guys, I’d have preferred pasta. The organic chicken across the table is curiously spongy like it’s also been boiled, before being finished in the oven. The flavour has not benefited from its drenching. The other good things are a side of celeriac chips with fried sage leaves and a lovely bowl of greens, broccoli, broadbeans and a pea puree . 

Not given to photographing food I take a snap of dessert just to remember that this is what €8 gets you in Dublin desserts these days.

A centimetre of lemon curd

Not given to photographing food I take a snap of dessert just to remember that this is what €8 gets you in Dublin desserts these days. It’s a “lemon brulee” in a glass. There’s roughly a centimetre of lemon curd at the bottom of the glass topped with a biscuit crumb and two leathery blackberries. The rest of the glass is filled with a fluffy piping of something described as “brulee foam” which tastes very much like sweetened cream. 

Without even dallying with the cocktail menu we’ve spent a euro short of €100. Had this not been a review I would have ordered from the pizza menu. Did the kitchen have an off night? Possibly. But the thing about muscular menus is they need a level of consistent attention and skill that gets stretched skin-thin over seven nights, unless you do an Alice Waters and appoint two head chefs, to split the load. The food ambitions are understandable and admirable (given the larger margins in cocktails). But a simpler start might have worked better. I can see what they’re aiming for, but sadly don’t taste it on the plate. 

Roberta’s East Essex Street, Dublin 2 (01) 616 9612

 Dinner for two with sparkling water and a shared dessert came to €99

Verdict: 5/10 A gorgeous place that still needs to find its feet on the food front

Facilities: Fab

Wheelchair access: Yes

Music: Nice

Food Provenance: Fair. Skeaghanore duck, Gubbeen, Cashel Blue, Bandon Vale and Toonsbridge all named.

Vegetarian options: Dismal (a friend who emailed to complain was told vegetarian options were not advertised because “the chefs will most likely come up with these things on the day”. Gosh, really?)