Although I have lived down the country for a number of years, I will always consider myself a Dubliner at heart. I jump at any chance to visit the city, to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. When time allows, I love to meet friends and go for a leisurely meal. Luckily, there are loads of great restaurants and cafés to choose from but there are times when I hanker after something a little different; somewhere to go that serves great food but also stands out from the crowd.
I was in Dublin during the recent spell of good weather and after a lovely afternoon spent wandering around Grafton Street I ambled into St. Stephen’s Green where sun-worshippers were out in force enjoying the balmy conditions. I had arranged to meet an old school friend for a drink in the newly opened Lemuel’s Bar at the Conrad Dublin on Earlsfort Terrace but as I made my way there through the park, I realised that I was a little bit peckish and preferred something to eat instead.
As part of an ambitious refurbishment programme, the Conrad recently opened The Coburg, a brasserie-style restaurant with an all-day menu offering a range of dining options. I love the relaxed ambience and simplicity of brasserie dining and having heard good reports about the food on offer at The Coburg, I was keen to try it out for myself. Despite the fact that this popular hotel was busy, our request for a table was facilitated without any bother and we happily took our seats in the beautiful dining room.
The Coburg is named after the Iveagh Gardens which are located across the road from the hotel and were once known as the Coburg Gardens after the German royal family of Saxe-Coburg. The restaurant is designed in a contemporary style but with art-deco touches that make it feel almost impossibly elegant. Marble tables and leather seating are used throughout and add to the feeling of sophistication, successfully echoing the character of the chicest of Parisian brasseries.
Executive Chef Dmitry Stroykov, originally from St. Petersburg, has worked closely with local producers such as Glenilen Farm, Gahan Meats, The Bretzel Bakery and Sheridan’s Cheesemongers to source the best quality ingredients and to devise a modern brasserie menu containing simple, fresh food that is immediately appealing. Dishes offered include oysters, small plates, sandwiches, fish, steaks and burgers, along with a range of main courses and a selection of classic desserts which are all made in house.
Although seriously tempted by the oysters, I decided to go all retro and chose the Donegal Lobster Cocktail (€14.50) to start. It arrived beautifully presented in a brass cocktail glass with a slight froufrou feel to it and it was packed full of perfectly cooked lobster meat; the sweetness of which was nicely balanced against the spicy ‘cocktail’ sauce. Perky leaves of baby gem lettuce cradled the generous chunks of tender lobster and provided textural contrast to the silky sauce. I love food that is light to eat but still feels a little bit naughty and self-indulgent and for me, this dish ticked all the right boxes.
My companion loved her starter of Ricotta Cheese and Kale Gnocchi, Butternut Squash Velouté, Red Chard & Crispy Kale (€16.50). The velouté was presented separately to the gnocchi and subsequently poured on to the dumplings at the table by our waiter Matus. We both revelled in the theatricality of this and loved the assertive flavours of the dish. Everything had been expertly seasoned and, despite the sweetness of the squash and the milky creaminess of the ricotta, it still tasted like a very savoury dish. The moreish gnocchi were light little pillows of pleasure and we devoured the lot.
The Coburg’s wine list has some wonderful choices on it (including a nice selection of Old and New World wines) and, in keeping with the requirements of modern diners, many are available by the glass. On the recommendation of our waiter we decided on the 2014 Seifried Estate, Pinot Gris from New Zealand (€12 per glass, €50 per bottle). This full-flavoured wine with its nose of ripe fresh fruits and hints of candied citrus peel had a lovely long and smooth finish on the palate which made it deeply pleasurable to drink. Its acidity worked particularly well with my lobster cocktail and main course choice of cod.
Despite its seemingly simple execution my Pan-Fried Cod & Provençal Vegetables (€20.00) was a dish that was packed full of flavour where every element had been skilfully handled. The meaty cod was cooked perfectly and came away in large succulent flakes on the merest nudging by my fork. The fish was paired with a ratatouille inspired vegetable stew which included tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. Each vegetable retained its own identity but worked in perfect harmony with its bedfellows. Yes; this may have been a simple dish but it was also simply delicious.
The Organic Corn-Fed Chicken, Shallot Tarte Tatin, Pea Purée, Jus (€19.00) was another excellent dish comprising of a carved supreme of juicy roasted chicken and a lovely sweet pea purée which thankfully still retained some texture. The shallot tarte tatin wasn’t a tarte tatin in the truest sense but rather a disc of perfectly crisp puff pastry placed on top of some slowly cooked caramelised shallots. A rich meaty gravy completed the dish which was essentially a roast chicken dinner elevated to new heights and a plate of food that was impossible to resist.
A number of sides (€4.50 each) were also available and included French Beans, Green Salad, and Onion Rings amongst many others, but we decided to forgo these in order to leave room for dessert.
After some indecision where the lemon posset and crème brûlée started off as front-runners we eventually decided to share an Apple Tarte Tatin, Vanilla Ice-Cream, Brandy Cream (€9.00). To accompany our communal dessert we decided to treat ourselves and have a glass of dessert wine each – Seifried Estate ‘Sweet Agnes’ Riesling (€13.00) for me and a 2007 Chateau Barbier Sauternes (€12.50 per glass) for my companion. It was at this point that all my professional objectivity flew out the window. I’m known for my sweet tooth but I had transcended into a profound state of dessert nirvana. Coupled with the exquisite Riesling, I found it impossible to critique it in a meaningful way other than to say that with its sticky caramelised apples and rich buttery pastry, I thought it was perfection on a plate.
I was hugely impressed by my meal in The Coburg. This is not your regular hotel restaurant fare, rather it is food that is stylish and contemporary without a whiff of pretension. Classic dishes have been reinterpreted in a contemporary way using the best Irish ingredients so that they are exciting to eat. Service is everything you would expect from a 5 star hotel and our wonderful waiter Matus was professional and hugely knowledgeable about the food and drink on offer. If you are in Dublin, The Coburg is somewhere that you have to visit.
Conrad Hotel Dublin
T: 01 602 8900
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.