The Conrad Hotel
Phone: 01 602 8900
Irish Daily Mail
2 July 2016
It’s not easy being a hotel restaurant. Most of the guests will have decided, well in advance, that they will eat the breakfast that’s included in the price and go elsewhere for sustenance during the rest of the day. There’s an instinct about this; it’s well founded and it says to us: “get out of the hotel if you want decent food.”
It’s born of bitter experience in many cases. You arrive at night in a city that you don’t know, tired, needing to prepare for a meeting early the next day. The obvious thing to do is to order something on room service and eat it while flicking through the local television channels.
Or you brave the dining room which is advertised to you in the lift with pictures of impossibly glossy, all-purpose, one-size-fits-all food. Nine times out of ten you will be refuelled but lose part of your soul. There’s a touch of Harry Potter’s dementors about the average hotel restaurant.
Now, the people who run hotels are not in the business for the good of their health and in order to turn a profit they have to do chain-wide deals with the food service industry. A friend of mine in the meat industry tells me that 0.5c on a sausage can be a deal breaker. The consequences for eating are obvious. It’s not food, it’s not cooking, and we all recognise it when we’re unfortunate enough to come into contact with it.
One of the excuses that hotel chains have for feeding us rubbish is a combination of tight margins and the need to be all things to all people. What The Conrad has done is to create a menu that ticks all of the boxes without being annoyingly big and – this is the really impressive thing – producing excellent food.
And I mean carefully considered cooking with stylish presentation in a rather glamorous environment at – can you believe it? – very fair prices.
Consider €12 for an exceptionally pretty prawn cocktail served in a copper coloured martini glass. Sure, they were not Dublin Bay prawns – that would double the price – but the saucing and presentation, with just a touch of dill, really elevated these humbler crustaceans.
A plate of beef carpaccio was perfect. How often do I say that? Each disc of wafer-thin raw fillet of beef (the outer rim just seared) was marbled with tiny veins of fat, impeccably seasoned, anointed with a drizzle of truffle vinaigrette and finished with some filaments of Parmesan. Absolutely perfect. You would not get better anywhere on the planet and yours for €11.50.
Lobster and prawn ravioli were a further triumph, not just for the kitchen and head chef Dmitry Stryakov but for the concept that less is more and one of the key commandments of good food: keep it simple.
Now, there’s simple and simple. In this instance it was a case of art concealing art. There were three big ravioli, parcels of delicate yet properly al dente pasta encasing a meaty combination of the two shellfish, chopped instead of being pureed into a paste.
Poured over these were a deep, resonant shellfish bisque, reduced to the point where it became a light sauce and perfumed with a touch of saffron. I would happily eat this every day, especially at €19.
A cast iron casserole containing mussels, crab claws, jumbo prawns and a Dublin Bay prawn cooked with chorizo and citrus was vast and involved cooking juices that demanded to be soaked into bread and, if you will forgive the expression, larrupped into.
The mussels were sweet and very fresh, the crab claws less impressive but the overall effect of this hearty affair was to induce a state of happiness. €21 for that.
Puddings were good too and, amazingly for a hotel restaurant, made in the kitchen. Yes, this is a hotel with a pastry chef.
In an age of industrial microwaves, it was reassuring to be told that the tarte tatin would take eighteen minutes. We liked the exactness and it was good: a miniature version of the classic upside down tart of caramelised apple with proper ice cream. Pouring caramel sauce over at serving was not really necessary but it adds to the ceremony.
A firm, tart lemon posset with properly buttery shortbread was yet more evidence that keeping it simple and presenting with style is the way to go.
With a couple of glasses of house wine each and mineral water we just about hit €115.