The Shelbourne has reasserted itself as Dublin's premier hotel, and the Saddle Room lives up to it's old reputation. With its dark oak walls and rich splashes of gold, the room has an intimate but lively feel. Paolo went along with firend Emma to have a ridiculously good lunch for €18.95. Outstanding.
vWhen I was a young lad, my parents took me to eat occasionally in The Saddle Room, the dining room that overlooked St Stephen's Green. It was probably one of the most elegant rooms anywhere around the Green, and over the years it motored on, occasionally with a new injection of life, such as when it got renamed Number 27.
It's back to being The Saddle Room again, but it's no longer in the great room at the front of the hotel. That's now a rather smart bar and the old Side Bar has been extended and re-modelled to become the new Saddle Room.
In a way it's an improvement, because instead of one big room that could make you feel isolated, now it's a series of smaller dining spaces, each one small enough to give a sense of intimacy. Embedded among these various spaces is The Martin Turner Room, which has just one table that can seat about 18. If you have a party of more than 12, you can ask for this room at no extra cost and dine in splendid isolation among Martin Turner's cartoons, which line the walls.
What took me back to The Shelbourne this time was the new lunch menu. If value is the leitmotif of 2009, then this menu is entirely in keeping with the zeitgeist -- a two-course lunch is €18.95. In itself that isn't a price that's unusual; you can find plenty of lunch menus around the city at that price. What sets The Shelbourne's offering apart from the others is twofold: first you're in one of Dublin's most famous hotels in fine surroundings; second, the menu is composed of dishes that aren't cheap to produce. The value for money is really astounding.
My guest for this lunch was Emma Olohan, and we took a booth in one of the dining areas. The booth had high upholstered banquettes and, when set for two, it gave us loads of room. As you look around, it's pretty clear that a lot of money has been spent on the interior -- the level of finish is very impressive. The table was set with good linen and everything on the table was of high quality, from the cutlery to the crockery and glassware.
It's worth reproducing the menu in full. The starters were a cauliflower soup, a shrimp cocktail, a plate of Parma ham with fresh figs and a port syrup, gravadlax and a tuna tartar. Main courses were confit of duck leg, a fillet of salmon, pan-fried monkfish tail, calf's liver and a vegetable bayaldi Provençal. Nothing cheap there.
To start, Emma chose the Parma ham and followed with the confit of duck leg, and I chose the shrimp cocktail followed by the calf's liver. With that done, we turned to the wine list. It's a long list with close on 200 wines, but it's not cheap. The house wines are €32 and everything else on the list goes up from there. This is forgiveable, since the food is such amazing value, but I think that it may be time to see whether a lower mark-up might actually increase wine sales, as it has done in Roly's. On the day, this was all academic as we were both driving, so we ordered two glasses of Prosecco at €11 each.
Our starters arrived, a generous plate of Parma ham for Emma and the shrimp cocktail for me. The plate of Parma ham needs no description, but my shrimp cocktail does. I was expecting shrimps, those crustaceans that are smaller than prawns. What I got were two of the biggest prawn tails I've ever seen -- Kenyan white prawns -- that were closer in size to small lobsters than they were to prawns. They were delicious as well and had me thinking that this dish alone would eat up the bulk of €18.50 for the lunch.
When our starters were taken away, I was delighted to see the bread remained. Not only did it remain, but we were offered more with the main courses. At last, a restaurant that does it the European way. They were good breads too, freshly baked.
The main courses were very good: the confit of duck leg came with a delicious smoked sausage and confit of carrots, while my liver came with a potato purée and a garlic and parsley sauce. With these dishes eaten, we looked long and hard at the dessert menu before deciding on a selection of ice creams to share, which made a fine end to what had been an excellent meal.
Elegant surroundings, superb service and great value make the new Saddle Room well worth a visit.
Our bill came to €76, without service.