My head was reeling before I even made it through the doors of Dylan McGrath's new Shelbourne Social, thanks to the restaurant's migraine-inducing website, all pulsing graphics and non sequitur images, including one of Tupac. For why? All customers need to know is the location, how to book and something about the food and wine. Anything else is annoying and, in the case of Shelbourne Social, expensively over the top, like everything else about this misguided restaurant.
Confirming the booking, the restaurant asks my stooge (aka husband) if he'd like to book a table for cocktails in the bar before or after our meal. He declines. But when my friend and I arrive, the question is asked of us 'laydees' again. It's the first instance in a litany of attempts to up-sell. We play along, trekking up the stairs to sit in a largely empty room and wait 10 minutes before anyone takes an order from us. In fairness, the barman is charming and the cocktails good, but we've been played.
And then it's back downstairs to a buzzy room to try and make head or tail out of a menu that's desperate to be different, broken down thus: Hot Curd Bread, Crudo, Appetiser, Nearly Cooked, From the Market, Starch, Fish, Meat and Dessert. No, me neither.
Our waiter is clearly so good at his job (the principal focus of which appears to be selling us more food than we can possibly eat) that he doesn't need to bother with pen or paper. In one respect this turns out to be a good thing (one dish - razor clams - that we order is forgotten and never mentioned again), but it does necessitate two interruptions from him to check the order.
The curd bread is warm and rather delicious; we order ours with pulled lamb served with goat's curd, basil, capers and shallots. The flavours are pleasant, the portion an ample starter between two. But we've been encouraged to order more, so there's also a main-course size tartare of torched Dexter beef with garlic, confit egg, Parmesan and kohlrabi, a dish in which there is far too much going on, and burrata with (disarmingly sweet) truffle sauce that is woefully over-chilled, so that the cheese is firm rather than oozingly creamy. A flurry of fresh black truffle - always a good idea - is the best thing about it.
By now we are close to satiated, but our 'mains' are yet to come. Numerous dishes are designed to be shared between two, three or four, which limits choice; whatever about sharing a dish with a friend or partner, it's not an option that appeals to the corporate market.
Sirloin on the bone (€45) comes with truffled green beans, Parmesan and horseradish cream. The meat lacks flavour, and by this stage the dishes are becoming indistinguishable, with many of the same elements cropping up over and over again. Eating begins to feel like a chore. Wild forest mushrooms with Madeira and pickled pistachio is curiously bland, while the beguiling-sounding potato purée with gribiche-dressed beans and egg yolk turns out to be plain weird, the mucous-y egg lurking deep within the bowl.
A dessert of hazelnut chocolate meringue is dull, but a complimentary bowl (was our mission rumbled? I have no idea) of smoked banana ice-cream with miso caramel delightful.
There was clearly no stinting when it came to the interiors' budget at Shelbourne Social, but the room is badly in need of some softening touches, and input from someone who understands lighting, which is too bright and most unflattering.
On the night of our visit, staff are unable to control the disruptive screeching from one rowdy table and, at the end of the evening, with customers still in the room, a manager is noisily counting coins. Acceptable in a café perhaps, but not in a high-end restaurant.
Our bill for two, including a bottle of Runkel Spatburgunder 2015 (€46), comes to €187.50 before service.
ON A BUDGET
Hot curd bread with hummus, charred tenderstem broccoli with umami sauce, herbs and burrata, and soba noodles with brown shrimp, prawns and Thai basil, shared between two, will cost €36 before drinks or service.
ON A BLOW OUT
Foie gras, oscietra caviar, o-toro tuna, truffles, wagyu beef...
THE HIGH POINT
Smoked banana ice-cream with miso caramel.
THE LOW POINT
Over-chummy service, overwrought food. It's all too much.