Review: A Dublin hotel restaurant that bucks the ‘it’ll do’ trend
This restaurant has style, ambition and lorry-loads of flavour
- The Westbury, Harry Street, Dublin 2
- (01) 646 3352
- € € € €
There’s a sameness about bad hotel restaurants. They’re filled with diners who are too tired or unadventurous to venture out, staffed by people who are less than pushed about dazzling anyone. The tone is one big shoulder shrug of “it’ll do”. It may be the breakfast effect. A few hours after downing your dessert fork, you might be fishing marmalade out of a jar at the same table. Hotel dining rooms can be places where ambition goes cold and more than a bit rubbery around the edges.
All that baggage is trundling with me to the Westbury on a Friday night to try Wilde restaurant. I can resist everything but the temptation to make assumptions. The Westbury is a hemmed-in building. It doesn’t have the grand vistas of Dublin’s other posh hotels, tucked as it is behind side streets with coach parking out the back. So the hotel turns its back on the city (and the century – the theme here is the 1930s) and tries instead to create clubby spaces such as Wilde.
This restaurant is on the first floor, one deck up from Balfes, the hotel’s other, more casual offering. There’s a long, handsome room lit with a line of orb lanterns set to the illumination level of a backroom seance. We’re sitting on the “covered garden terrace”, which looks out over Harry Street and can be opened to the elements. Tonight the plastic windows (they’re nicer than that sounds) are closed to seal out the chill. There are painted rattan chairs and cosy rugs. Ivy has been trained up the walls between the windows. The foliage is fake, which is a bit heart-sinking, but made up for by the elegance of the rest of the room and our round marble table.
And then my polished set of assumptions are properly squashed by a joy of a meal. Someone has made a jar of fermented carrot. So what? Well, this is the kind of stuff we picture a chef-patron doing in her tiny kitchen, burping the jar twice a day and tasting the vegetables stewing in their own funk until they’re ready to serve to a handful of lucky people at a pop-up. Jar burping (trust me, it’s a thing in the fermentation world) is not work we associate with a busy kitchen scrambling bottled eggs for breakfast. But here it is. The carrot slaw has a great funky fizz to go with soft-shell crab in a feathery coat of batter. There’s a small cube-shaped pot of black bean soy-rich sauce to root all the guy ropes down like a tent peg. These three elements are as brilliant a combination as I’ve had in those more bespoke places where they wear dark aprons and take themselves very seriously.
My friend has a dish that sounds like a yawn but tastes so much better. Long-stem broccoli has been cooked and then blanched to keep its crunch and colour and dressed lightly with (I’m guessing) lemon and toasted sesame oil, before being served with oven-dried kale, cubes of sweet potato and cashew nuts for crunch. I’ve gone for another starter as a main. I figure there’ll be enough meat in one of those beautiful west Cork Skeaghanore duck breasts (picture a regular duck in a power pose) to satisfy. And there is. The only thing wrong with this plate is a slightly watery beansprout salad that comes alongside. My companion gets the flat iron steak, charred and smoky on the outside, the lusciousness of the meat inside testament to the 28 days the meat spent ageing. Great chips come in a copper pot along with another of juicy charred sweetcorn topped with feta so light it’s almost still curd and strips of chilli just hot enough to bring a mild sting to the party.
A €15 plate of “miniature handmade desserts” is beautiful, the five small creations based on millinery designed by Irish designers. I’m suspicious of dessert beauty. This kind of fuss in pastry often translates to a bland set of sugar bombs. But these fascinators in food form have looks and taste, proper chocolate with a sooty darkness, a fluffy raspberry cheesecake, a pearl made of white chocolate and sugar spun so it’s a light crunch rather than a tooth cracking wallop.
I’ll spare you the results of a Google search for Oscar Wilde quotes about food. But I think the man himself would have liked the place (at least because it’s several notches up from the food on the Oscar Wilde ferry). It’s more than a pastiche hotel restaurant trading on a famous city son. It’s that delicious Venn diagram intersection between heartfelt food, whip-smart service and menu staples peppered with more creative dishes. If you hate hotel restaurants, prepare to be happily surprised.
Dinner for two with a glass of wine and sparkling water came to €103
- Wilde, The Westbury, Harry Street, Dublin 2, 01-6463352
Verdict: 8.5/10 Great heartfelt food in a smart hotel setting.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Music: Spillover from the bar/lobby
Vegetarian options: Limited
Food provenance: Skeaghanore duck, Castletownbere scallops and Carlingford oysters
D-Aungier-ously dark coffee
My new coffee crush is Granthams on Aungier Street. The coffee comes from Dark Arts Coffee – “a roastery started by friends in east London”, according to their website. I’m not sure if wands are involved but it is delicious and intense without being bitter with a hint of caramel.
- Granthams, 8 Aungier Street, Dublin 2