Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Dining Room at La Stampa Hotel, Dawson St, Dublin 2

Roll the dice and spin the wheel. Sometimes that's how it feels when dining at the Dining Room in La Stampa Hotel. Over the years there has been a series of executive chefs ranging from Jean Cristophe Novelli to home-grown talents Paul Fynn and the recently departed Conrad Gallagher. (You can read my 2011 review from Conrad Gallagher's stint at the helm here).

Now, this Grand Dame of the Dublin dining scene is in the hands of Ronan Ryan (of Town Bar & Grill repute), aided by long term head chef Malcolm Starmer. So how has Dublin's most beautiful dining room fared under the new regime. The room is lighter and brighter, with a more stripped back feel. To me it possibly feels a little too bare, but I like the brighter atmosphere. With Conrad Gallagher in charge, it was sometimes hard to see what was on the plate. The giant flower arrangement is also gone, replaced by a  headless statue of Nike.

We visited on a Thursday night and the restaurant resolutely remained very quiet throughout our entire meal. Not even the expected traffic from hotel residents manifested. Given that good Dublin restaurants are busting at the seams right now, I wondered was this quietness a bad sign?

Our set menu featured about 4-5 choices for starters and mains, and a bit limited for those of the vegetarian bent. Himself chose the warm salad of mackerel with cracked wheat, sweet potato and salted lemon vinaigrette.  This was a delightful starter with fresh, oily mackerel beautifully balanced by the sharp and salty emulsified dressing. A tribute to a humble star of the fish world. My starter of sliced roast pigeon breast was gamey with the liver taste expected from pigeon. For the life of me, I can't remember what accompanied the pigeon, and my photo of menu is illegible!
Warm salad of mackerel
Roast pigeon breast
My mains choice was the delicious sounding maple glazed suckling pig served with choucroute and prune, black pudding and walnut crumble. This piece of pork came with what was possibly the best crackling I've ever eaten in a restaurant. The pork itself was moist and tender, cooked beautifully, but I failed to pick up on the advertised maple glaze. The crumble mix was very good indeed, with dark rich and sweet flavours matching the pork beautifully. Himself chose the roast venison, one of the nights specials. It came beautifully served, with attractive pea shoots brightening up the plate, while the meat was cooked to pink perfection. 
Maple glazed suckling pig
Special - Venison
Despite the elegant presentation of the main courses, the portion sizes are quite substantial and so it was that we found ourselves facing dessert with a bit of apprehension. We wanted some light, refreshing options, so discarding the bread & butter pudding we settled on classic creme brûlée for himself and frozen nougat for me. The creme brûlée was served in a little square dish with shortbread biscuits and was exactly as expected. My frozen nougat was a single scoop of a silky smooth ice-cream substance, dotted throughout with finely chopped fruits and nuts. The accompanying blood oranges, honey & lemon syrup and spiced tuille were all a bit of overkill, proving too sharp and too sweet respectively for the amazing delicate milky creaminess of the nougat. 
Vanilla crème brûlée

Frozen nougat
We dined using a voucher from the Irish Times Rewarding Times, which gave us a three course meal for two, including a bottle of wine for €69 (worth €105). The bottle of wine was the weakest point in the meal, being a very dull Pinot Grigio, but otherwise, we were quite pleased with our meal. Service was a little too attentive at times (we nearly had to physically restrain our server from pouring the wine), but I suppose that's to be expected in a nearly empty restaurant. 

This is good accomplished cooking, but you'd expect nothing less in in such a magnificent setting from an experienced chef. The menu did seem a bit heavy, with only a handful of lighter choices available. Hopefully, as we move from Spring to Summer, the choices will change to reflect the seasons. Overall, there is a sense of steady competence in the food at the Dining Room. It's reliable, and maybe perhaps, too safe. Perhaps this old Grande Dame might like to live it up a little.

For early birds, a slimmed down pre-theatre menu is served tightly between 17.30 -18.30 Monday to Saturday giving 2 courses for €22.95 or 3 for €25.95.

The Dining Room, La Stampa Hotel, Dawson St, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 612 7911
URL: http://www.lastampa.ie/balzac-restaurant-dublin
Twitter: @LaStampaDublin

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