The Coburg is a proper old fashioned hotel brasserie and none the worse for it, says Leslie Williams.
International hotel chains are often rather soulless places with little that lets you know what city you are in and I often think this is deliberate so that international travellers have a feeling of familiarity.
The Conrad in Dublin does have some of those traits but something about the light and furnishings has always made it a little more attractive than many of its rivals.
The hotel is just opposite the National Concert Hall and a few dozen metres from Stephen’s Green and rather than going the fine dining route as would be expected they have opted for a more casual approach.
Fine dining rarely works in a hotel context for some reason, possibly because the food has to have the same blandness as the décor so as to appeal to as many people as possible.
There are exceptions and as I wrote here a while back the Shelbourne is making a decent effort as is The Marker Hotel.
My last meal in the Merrion (arguably the one of the country’s poshest hotels) was perfectly acceptable but had a rather bland predictability.
The Coburg however is an all-day old-fashioned hotel brasserie and proud of it with Club and Reuben sandwiches, seafood cocktails, consommé, fish and chips, chicken liver paté, steak and chips and rack of lamb.
This may sound a little like a throwback to the 1970s but there is a reason these dishes became classics and I can’t remember the last time I saw a Reuben Sandwich on an Irish menu and I intend going back some day soon to order it.
Chef Dimitry Stroykov seems also to have made an effort to source well and the menu namechecks products such as Connemara Whiskey Cured Smoked Salmon, Glenilen Butter and Cashel Blue Cheese.
The name Coburg is a reference to the original name for the Iveagh Gardens behind the Concert Hall and the fittings have a clubby feel with lots of leather, marble, porcelain and brass.
Incidentally the nearby bar has similar fittings and has a decent list of cocktails and spirits with properly trained barmen and is almost always quiet and a good place to hide for a sneaky afternoon G&T.
On the night we dined the restaurant was very quiet but it was a quiet Wednesday in Dublin so this may not be typical.
For starters my guest chose a Castletownbere Seafood Cocktail (€13.50) which arrived in the traditional large Martini Glass and was spanking fresh and well seasoned.
My Bouillabaisse was also good — rich and comforting and made with salmon, prawns, mussels, haddock (I think) and enlivened with some samphire.
The traditional Rouille (garlic saffron mayonnaise) on grilled bread that accompanied the soup was also good but could have done with a little more punch.
As an aside I do wonder why it became a convention that almost all fish soups get called Bouillabaisse when they bear little resemblance to the original of the species.
Bouillabaisse is a Marseille fisherman’s soup made with Mediterranean fish that were difficult to sell such as Rascasse (a Marseillaise would argue that true Bouillabaisse cannot be made without it).
There are dozens of traditional fish soups from the North Atlantic (which is where we live after all), but I have never seen a Basque Ttoro or a Breton Cotriade on an Irish menu.
Sirloin steak was nicely cooked and of decent quality and the chips were both fluffy and crispy.
Wiener Schnitzel (here called Freya’s Schnitzel) had a crisp tasty crust was made with Wexford Rose Veal an ingredient I wish we saw more often.
Given that you will find suckling pig and Spring lamb easily enough I do wonder why we seem to be squeamish about Irish veal given that it is reared in a completely natural way and has no connection to the rather unpleasant farming methods often used to make white veal.
For dessert we shared a rich and satisfying Ricotta Cheese and Chocolate tart with pistachio and candied orange on the side.
So the Coburg Brasserie isn’t breaking any rules or conjuring new flavours but there is something (very positive) to be said for doing the classics well and I’m fairly sure I will be back.
Dinner for two including two starters, two mains, a shared dessert, a bottle of wine plus extra chips and a sparkling water cost €130
Open Daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 6.30am – 11pm
The Coburg Brasserie, Conrad Hotel, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2.
Tel: 01-6028900; www.thecoburgdublin.com
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