Food wears Sunday best... plus extra foam
The Fitzwilliam Hotel, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 4787000.
Food wears Sunday best... plus extra foam
As a rule, I hate hotel restaurants and all who sail in them, but I am a misanthropic old thing. I always imagine if I'm eating in a hotel, I'm missing out on something in the real world. To me, it is the safe, sanitised, gated-community version of restaurants on the street.
On the other hand, I love hotels. I love the anonymity and the fact that you are sharing living space with all of these strangers. I love hotel bars, which are full of bored people on business trips, displaced travellers, all filling the hours between now and bedtime and only too happy to tell their story to a stranger like me.
But hotel restaurants, well, in my experience they're just full of squabbling families and silent couples eating dinner at 7pm.
So, it was with a heavy heart that I went along to try out Citron's new summer menu under their head chef, Matt Fuller (formerly of Salon des Saveurs and Peacock Alley).
Citron is Thornton's baby sister, on the mezzanine level of the hotel. It's always been a hip and trendy place to eat with its open balcony looking down on the hotel lobby and its low ceiling covered with modern lighting fixtures.
It's a Tuesday night so the restaurant is impressively busy with couples and families, mostly American. I brought my guy along and we were given menus as soon as we arrived but drinks orders were not taken until our food order was taken, some 10 minutes and one missed aperitif later.
It gave us time to peruse the menu properly, which is a classy one. It includes a 'study' of beef and leek soup that is 'perfumed' with wild garlic.
There is scallops, lobster, foie gras, pigeon and halibut, there is parmesan foam and passion fruit 'air' and, in the desserts arena, a strawberry and basil soup. It is an exciting menu, without being alienating -- there is still lamb, risotto, salmon, chocolate marquise.
We decided to try a different wine with each course and the wine by the glass ranges from the €6 to €10 ballpark. They include Chablis, Pinot Grigio, Fleurie and Morgans Languedoc.
The service is attentive but leisurely. It is excellent when it is at your table -- friendly, well-informed and professional, and it gave me the kind of safe feeling I get around very competent nurses or pilots, the feeling that, should disaster ensue, they will step in assuredly.
At some points, it can feel like the life is being explained out of the food. The waitress tells us every detail of each course as it is presented to us, which sometimes it feels tautological. For example, with the amuse bouche, a tuna carpaccio and a cute laundry line pegged with handmade potato chips. The waitress explains that this is a laundry line pegged with handmade potato chips that have been made in the shape of shorts, which feels unnecessary.
There is no rushing here. The atmosphere is laid-back atmosphere and sedate.
Our starters of lobster tortellini, with parmesan foam, leek puree and tomato consommé (€11) and scallops with vanilla potatoes, the aforementioned passion fruit air and carrot saffron puree (€14) arrive and when our waitress shakes the accompanying tomato consommé with ice in a cocktail shaker and pours it over my guy's starter, his face is a picture.
It seems to be saying "stop destroying my tortellini," but he keeps it together and declares it delicious. Both starters are a selection of perfectly portioned delicate flavours, just enough to whet the appetite for the mains to come.
We order our mains, lamb leg, with tomato and aubergine lasagne (which turns out to be a square inch in size), shin and flank (€24) and roast crackling pig, with fennel puree and Jerusalem lyonnaise (€23).
Half an hour later, they arrive. Mine is hot; my guy's is just warm.
He is fiercely protective of the moderate temperature of his meal, suggesting that it is meant to be that way, in the same way that a latte and a cappuccino should differ in their optimum serving temperature.
In other words, he likes the place and doesn't want such a small thing as food temperature to scupper its chances of a good review.
It all tastes wonderful, however, and that is precisely what the menu in this place is all about -- the pureés, the drizzles, the foams and the consommés, they're all there to confound and delight your palate with their combined effect. And they do.
For dessert, we had the poached pear with chocolate fudge and toasted almond ice cream (€7.50) and the chocolate marquise with olive oil ice cream, fruit paté, candied bread and spiced cream (€7.50).
Again, the plates were beautifully arranged and encouraged you to sample the various flavours rather than devour it. The chocolate element was a heart attack on the plate, but its surrounding elements felt like an experiment that I wasn't delighted to take part in. Interesting but not satisfying. The pear, however, was light, traditional and polished off in no time.
As a waiter brought the bill, he apologised for any possible delay between courses.
I told him, as I am telling you, that it didn't matter. It was the perfect, unhurried pace at which to enjoy a three-course meal.
The essential fact is we enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. The light is flattering, the service discreet, the tables well-spaced -- perfect for a gastronomic date without the astronomical overheads.
At the end of it all, however, it is still a restaurant in a hotel, a fact that is hard to escape as you overlook the chequered marble foyer.
You won't get better food than this for this price... but you might have more fun at the bar.
TYPICAL DISH: An excellent cut of meat or fish dressed up in its Sunday best, with pureé or foam
RECOMMENDED: Lobster Tortellini
THE DAMAGE: €120.40 for three courses, two glasses of wine each and one coffee
ON THE STEREO: Indiscernible tinkling hotel sounds
AT THE TABLE: Tourists, couples and families
Day & Night