There is little denying that a trip to The Shelbourne is always a welcome treat. Whether it is lingering over a luxurious afternoon tea in the Lord Mayor’s Lounge, enjoying a cocktail in the always buzzing Horseshoe Bar. Most exciting of all, an evening in The Saddle Room is an occasion in itself, worthy of dressing up to the nines for a night of indulgence.
As soon as your heels hit the marble floors and you stride towards the glass doors, there is a sense of celebration about booking in for dinner at the iconic Grand Dame’s two AA Rosette restaurant. With a kitchen headed up by chef Garry Hughes, the Saddle Room has reinvented itself in recent years as a Steak and Seafood brasserie of sorts, but has lost none of its star quality in doing so.
An eye-catching oyster bar welcomes you on arrival, cementing the fact that the beautiful bivalves are a must-order when visiting. I make a mental note to make good on this as I pass a couple diving in to sumptuous looking seafood platter en route to our windowside table.
Decor-wise, the Saddle Room is somehow invitingly opulent, modern yet timeless, gold-gilded without feeling gaudy, dimly lit and filled with couples enjoying a special dinner á deux and families making fond birthday memories.
Nisea Doddy, my Oenophile companion tells me, is a shining star of a sommelier and has designed an enticing wine list, as my eye is drawn to one of my all time favourite drops, Napa Valley’s extravagant Cakebread at a cool €160 a bottle. That said, there are plenty more pocket friendly pours on offer.
As a midweek treat, we decided on a glass of Laurent Perrier Brut Champagne each, to toast to an opulent evening in one of Dublin’s most enticing dining rooms. A happy coincidence, a crisp glass of Champagne was the perfect match for our shared Seafood Platter (€45) starter, because life is too short to slurp oysters without bubbles to match.
An abundant spread was laden down with Galway’s famed native Kelly’s oysters and Dungarvan’s gigas Harty oyster. Each offerers a different taste of the Irish coastline, the latter briney and mineral rich and the former creamy all the way down. I suspect I could make my way through one of these quite happily, but on this occasion I manage to play nice and share.
While the oysters for me stole the show, the platter also hosted a half lobster (cue fights over the claw) alongside two ramekins of Castletownbere crab which was as sweet as the first spring harvest of peas. A final dotting of mussels and silky smoked salmon completed a seafood feast, served on a glacial silver platter which took up the majority of our table, happily.
Although tempted to go for an Old School classic of Chateaubriand, my tolerance for sharing had been exhausted, so we opted for two summery sounding mains to celebrate the new seasonal menu.
First up, Roast Saddle of Rabbit (€36) is not an easy cut to cook, but here it delivers peak succulence. Wrapped in salty bacon to retain moisture and season the innately sweet game, the off-putting preconception that rabbit can be as underwhelming as chicken was well dispelled here. Corn sweet as caramel and smokey lardons were the ying to the rabbit’s yang, the perfect savoury sweet hit and a well executed main indeed.
Having already been impressed with the quality of the seafood platter, I was pleased with my choice of Soya Glazed Kilmore Quay Cod.(€35) Lemony spinach purée and sticky soya made what can sometimes be a pedestrian choice of fish far more intriguing, and perfectly cooked cod fell apart at the slightest tickle of the fork, beneath an umami rich and almost crisp caramelised glaze of soya. Smokey charred baby gem and bright pops of broad bean finished a vibrant dish which felt like summer on a plate.
Service in this five star haven is that of the silver variety, as you would expect, however it has to be said that it feels polished but never cold – a rarity in such establishments.
The best way to finish a dinner where seafood was the shining star is surely with the natural pairing to all delights of the sea, lemon. A simple classic of Lemon Posset made for a palate cleansing finish, scooped up with buttery shortbread and topped with piquant plum compote. When life gives you lemons, and a night in the Shelbourne makes you feel like it has done, make lemon posset.
The Saddle Room is at the tip of my tongue when it comes to celebratory dinners and milestones with family and friends, and it evokes feelings of nostalgia and special occasions passed for so many of us. While dinner in one of Dublin’s most iconic venues comes with a price, in return you are gifted with precious memories, played out over expertly executed dishes and toasts to good health and happiness.
Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for special occasions, they say, even if sometimes that special occasion is the fact that you have Champagne in the fridge. Always keep The Shelbourne on your list for special occasions – sometimes the special occasion is just that you’re going to The Shelbourne.
The bill, excluding service, for a seafood platter, two mains, a shared dessert and two glasses of Champagne came to €159.
The Saddle Room
The Shelbourne Hotel
27 St Stephen’s Green
T: + 353 1 6634500
REVIEW BY DARINA COFFEY