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Review: Early bird at the Saddle Room

shelbourneMy highlight of Taste of Dublin: steak frites from the Saddle Room. Simple, unfussy, and perfectly cooked.

The Shelbourne Hotel lost its character when it was revamped, but its restaurant seemed reason enough to visit. I headed there with our good friend Geordie Sue a few weeks ago to check out the early bird menu; €22 for two courses and €25.95 for three. It’s quite a large space with an open kitchen, lots of waiters buzzing around, and quite a few covers. The early bird seemed a popular option, but the crowd thinned out as the night went on.

Having so thoroughly enjoyed The Saddle Room at Taste, I had high hopes. Both Sue and I opted for a carpaccio of tuna starter, served with a sesame and soy sauce. The starters arrived promptly, but one of them was not what we had ordered. No problem, it was immediately taken away and replaced within a minute, with a very nice (although unnecessary) apology from the manager. We were even offered an extra drink as an apology. Excellent customer service, but I declined the kind offer.

shelbourne2My main, sadly, was a real letdown. The confit of rabbit was served with soft polenta and what I can only describe as a “red” sauce (not ketchup). The meat was succulent and well seasoned, but the soft polenta had the texture and flavour of lumpy cheese sauce. This was a horrible mismatch. The red sauce was, presumably, primarily meant to add colour to the dish. But it also added a slightly unpleasant blandness. Everything about this dish – from its inception, through to my stupidity in ordering it and the final creation – was a mistake. I wonder what on earth the kitchen were thinking. That said, I don’t think this will be on the menu again.

Sue’s main fared much better: fresh hake with chorizo. Fresh, well executed, and the fish not smothered by the richness of the meat. Both meals came with fresh vegetables, cooked al dente, and some chips.

We both opted for dessert: Sue’s meringue was sweet, soft, and chewy as it should be, dripping with bright, fresh fruit and thick cream. My lemon tart was pleasant, although there was a little too much pastry and meringue topping, and not enough lemon.

Now, I know some readers will question why I didn’t kick up a fuss about the rabbit, and point out that it’s a bit unfair to complain now. But the truth is… I just wasn’t that bothered at the time. It was okay, it was edible. Sue and I were having a lovely evening, and I didn’t feel like a fuss.

They’ll be more surprised when I say that despite the disaster of my main, I’d be inclined to give The Saddle Room another go. The service was professional, the atmosphere was fancy without being too stuffy, and most of the food was good. I think it’s worth another try.


  1. I think that’s fair enough – I’d draw a distinction between ordering and receiving a meal which it turns out you don’t particularly enjoy (as here), and receiving a meal which is not what you ordered (whether by under/overcooking, lacking ingredients, etc.). It sounds like a genuine place, and that they tried something and it didn’t come off. I would never fault a kitchen for that.

  2. Aidan, indeed, but then there can be a lack of judgment from the chef too. Choosing ingredients that don’t work together, or textures, for instance (although polenta usually works very well with rabbit). It’s important that the chef tries the dish many times before they put it on the menu. And this should be tasted by other members of the staff too. It’s a bit like trying a very complex or fussy recipe when receiving your in laws for the first time

  3. [deleted for trolling]

  4. Noel, as I said, I’d happily give this place another chance. We welcome constructive criticism but don’t welcome offensive personal attacks.
    Feel free to disagree, but don’t presume to know me. I’m not going to rise to this any further.

  5. Ah Noel, I think there may be something Freudian about this particular comment:

    “I feel strongly Noel that you are quite the begrudging bitter type…unless Noel is smothered with recognition and free champagne.”


    Peter, Jean – I think the 8 bitter comments may be the online equivalent of pulling your hair and knocking you down in the playground. 🙂

  6. I like Bock the Robber’s comments policy. There is no unqualified right to free speech. Pay for and host your own blog, or treat people with basic respect and courtesy:

    I particularly like this:
    “You know what’s great about paying for your own site? It’s this: you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. If I don’t want stupid, miserable, depressing, annoying bastards leaving comments on my site, I just ban them.

    Isn’t that great? God, I love oppressing idiots.”

    Same policy applies here.

  7. Fantastic! Round of applause for Peter 😀 Who needs that crap, all I want is some food.