I harbour a romantic notion of eating in hotel restaurants, which I attribute to a life-long affection for the 20th century glamour of Agatha Christie novels. Even if the realities of a hotel kitchen may be closer to George Orwell’s tales of the “stifling, low-ceilinged inferno of a cellar” at Hotel X in Down and Out in Paris and London, for me, dining in a hotel restaurant comes with the promise of reverential leisure.
Having first opened its doors just off Grafton Street in 1984, The Westbury may not be the oldest hotel in Dublin but its upstairs restaurant Wilde serves up a dose of elegance associated with a more extravagant era. The hotel is the flagship of The Doyle Collection, one of eight hotels in the Irish family-owned hotel group, whose hospitality pedigree dates back to 1964 when the family’s late patriarch PV Doyle opened The Montrose in Ballsbridge.
Vines hang from the windows and ceiling of the terrace, giving it the feel of a life-sized terrarium, complete with wicker chairs covered with blankets to keep out the autumn cold. They’re a nice touch but they’re not really necessary. This heated terrace with remote controlled windows is as cosy as a plush hotel robe.
It seems as if the waiters are hired for their charm as well as their capabilities, and we lap it up. As I down a single Carlingford Lough oyster topped with lightly pickled cucumber and creamy caviar (€6 per shuck), a waiter who is dedicated to our drinks brings me a pomegranate and cranberry mocktail from the 1930s-inspired Sidecar Bar, home to an extensive collection of Irish gins such as Dingle Gin, Glendalough Spring Gin and Blackwater Gin, with cocktails averaging €12.
The menu, designed by The Westbury’s Executive Chef Sandeep Singh, is a catalogue of opulence embellished with contemporary flourishes. There is a side of creamy lobster mash, served in a teeny copper pot, hunks of sweet lobster meat peeking out through the silky potato (€9). Onion rings (€9) are delicately slim and crispy cousins to the more familiar thick, greasy rings of guilty pleasure. These sides accompany my eye-poppingly enormous 300g rib eye steak (€33), its charred skin capturing the juicy flavour of a fabulously cooked hunk of heat.
A hake dish is on special when we visit, its skin snapping with a moist crispness under the pressure of our silver forks, and a plate of beef carpaccio (€14) for starters is extraordinarily tender. The starter of spiced mackerel fillets (€12) and a crème brûlée for dessert (€9) are the only setbacks of our supper. The balance of fish to fennel, orange and samphire salad is leaning too heavily on the mackerel side for me, particularly when served as a starter, and the crème brûlée’s famed caramelised crust is forgone in favour of a more modern version of this traditional dessert. Sometimes a conventional approach is best.
There’s an awkward moment when my pavlova (€9) arrives, a delicate structure of meringue and cream with a scoop of ice-cream on top circled by seasonal berries. The ice-cream has become displaced on its journey from the kitchen to our table, and has slid off its perch on top of the meringue stack. “No, no, no! This won’t do,” says one of the team when he spots it. He whisks it away and, before I can even blush at the thought of the kitchen’s reaction, he returns with a perfectly coiffed version, the scoop of luscious strawberry ice-cream obediently maintaining its position.
That kind of attention to detail and exacting standards is what five-star hotel dining is about. What I most enjoy about my experience on Wilde’s terrace is that it’s one of attainable luxury. Excluding drinks, our dinner choices tally to €131, a big spend made worthwhile by the gentility of the atmosphere.
Aoife McElwain was a guest of Wilde at The Westbury and received her meal with compliments from the hotel.
Wilde at The Westbury
Harry Street, Dublin 2
Words: Aoife McElwain