FEW places need as little introduction as the Shelbourne Hotel. I’m guessing almost everyone reading this has been several times.
It will be difficult to avoid clichés in this review as this hotel really is iconic to Dubliners and Irish people in general.
Michael Collins oversaw the drafting of Ireland’s first constitution here, Elizabeth Taylor, John F Kennedy, and Princess Grace, stayed here; the hotel’s old world glamour and charm is hard to dent (despite some of the more obnoxious members of the legal trade that you might meet late at night in the Horseshoe Bar).
It is not just a hotel — this is a venerable institution (I told you there would be clichés), and every time I walk through that revolving door the small boy in me gets a little excited. I feel like a grown up.
Yes there have been ups and downs in its 192 years and under the previous owners the glamour had definitely begun to fade.
Several million euro later however, and the hotel is probably looking better than it ever did.
I miss the old lobby but the new one is bright and airy and probably more in keeping with what people expect of a hotel this famous.
Like almost every hotel in Ireland the food offering in the Shelbourne was its weak point but strenuous efforts have been made in the last 10 years to rectify this and it has got steadily better and better.
Tiny things like reintroducing leaf tea and using actual mint leaves rather than teabags have all made a difference.
I owed an old friend, let’s call him Bluesman, a decent meal so we visited on a warm Monday catching the last lunch orders of the day — Bluesman was my first editor so in truth I will always owe him much more than lunch.
The large dining room was heaving with a noticeably older clientele although there was some youth and glamour in the private dining room just off the main room with the presence of a bridal shower.
The Saddle Room calls itself a steak and seafood restaurant and the menu is pleasingly old-school with classics like ham-hock terrine, a half dozen (Harty’s) oysters and St Tola Goat’s cheese among the starter options.
In spite of the warm day I opted for the cream of celeriac soup with chive crème fraiche which was distinctly creamy and had a subtle nutty character.
It was a well-made soup but I would have liked a more emphasis on the celeriac which was a little lost in all the cream.
Bluesman’s Dingle gin and elderflower cured salmon with crab and lemon purée was probably the best executed dish of the meal.
The gin and elderflower flavours enhanced the fish without overwhelming, the salmon was beautifully fresh and the lemon and cucumber elements gave the dish lightness and complexity.
Slow braised daube of Charleville beef was the better of the two mains also, not just meltingly tender as it should be, but also packed with rich beefy flavours.
My pan- seared smoked salmon was nicely cooked but the shellfish bisque sauce was the standout part of the dish.
Side dishes also shone – creamy cauliflower gratin, silky mashed potatoes, crisp chips and some of the best potatoes I’ve tasted all year — Emily variety from Wexford I was told — when the potatoes taste this good, all really is well with the world.
Desserts were excellent — refreshing and creamy lemon posset with roast plum compote and a fine rhubarb crumble; espressos were a little over extracted and we politely declined the pretty complementary plate of petit-fours that came with them. We were just too stuffed.
Our wine for the meal was chosen from a good list with new and old classics — Leasingham Bin 7 riesling from the Clare Valley managed to be steely dry and richly flavoured and even coped admirably with the beef.
Service was very attentive throughout the meal as you might expect from a five-star hotel but to be honest it was a little too attentive and I think we dealt with around eight members of staff during our meal which is never a good thing (despite their charm).
So this old lady will continue to thrive for a few decades yet and while I realise the food we ate does not sound especially exciting or innovative only a food snob would care about such things — hopefully the doorman won’t let such people in.
Lunch for two — starters, mains, desserts and side dishes, plus a decent white wine (€49) and espressos - €128 (not with tip). Lunch €23 for 2 courses; €27 for three.
Open daily. Lunch 12pm-2.30pm; Dinner 5pm-10pm.