My first night visit to Anna Haugh’s pop up at Dublin’s five star Hotel Conrad in Dublin 2 was an odd experience. Disturbing in a way, because I was really looking forward to it and, frankly, was quite shocked by its shortcomings. I had the whole PR blurb but was already admiring the success of this Tallaght-born chef across the water. Haugh has her own restaurant, Myrtle, in Chelsea and is a regular on Saturday Kitchen and is now a judge on MasterChef: The Professionals.
All of that goes out the window, however, when you’re sitting in an unlit booth, staring at the breakfast tables set for the morning service while the rain literally drips on your head. We were offered the chance to get out from under the leaking glass roof but declined a table in the middle of the floor.
We paused, struggling to find white or red wines below €15 a glass or €58 a bottle on the ‘Sommelier’s Picks’ shortlist – other than a rosé (although our visit was on the threshold of November) – and stands before a defrosted meatball starter for €18.
I asked for the full wine list but couldn’t find anything under €40 (except rosé) and half a dozen under €50. We opted for a bottle of Luis Canas Viura, Malvasia y Tempranillo Rioja Blanco 2020 for €42.
I was happy to see that in addition to a 6 course tasting menu (€90) there was also an a la carte menu, albeit with starters at €16-18. These included Salmon of Knowledge – Kenmare smoked salmon mousse wrapped in Irish smoked salmon; and ‘Kindred Spirits’ by Thornhill Duck Leg.
A carrot salad (16€) was a colorful presentation of carrots with roasted hazelnuts, pickled raisins, Cáis Na Tíre cheese and carrot and star anise puree. Crispy Pig’s Brawn (€18) was a little misleading as Brawn isn’t part of a pig – crispy or not! Traditionally, it’s a kind of Austro-German terrine made from pork head meat, pressed with jelly. It is sold sliced in pork butcher shops.
Anyway, this was more of a patty — a crispy, breaded patty that looked like pulled pork. Neither of us liked the strong taste – the small bite I took reminded me of its presence throughout the night. The only good thing was the apple cubes around it. And for €18…
We didn’t fare much better with our main courses (€35-45). We were surprised that there were no wonderful shellfish from our ‘island surrounded by water’ and weren’t too keen on €39 oat crusted hake; nor of ‘bagún agus cabáiste’ or dingle vegetable cake, both for €35. We were left with two other options: Queen Maeve’s Beef (€45) – slow-cooked collar of Dexter beef wrapped around a medium-sized fillet that Mary thought she only took from the fillet. It was lukewarm while a stuffed mashed potato was cold. I love small plates but not for €42 which was the case with my two dainty pieces of wild sea bass which were overcooked and mushy with crispy potato flakes.
We shared a dessert – a Clementine filled with velvety cloud mousse, the outer skin “crystallized” in an orange-cinnamon syrup, according to the waiter, and surrounded by clementine segments. It sounded great, but it had a damp skin and reminded us of those old laminated pictures of ice cream cards, and again for €14…
I realize we were in an American-owned hotel, but Ms Haugh’s upscale, touristy, gourmet version of Irish cuisine, with a constant reference to every dish’s Irish mythology, as served by the staff, felt startlingly contrived. We’re past that here. Irish food speaks for itself and doesn’t need fairy tales to sell it. When Ms Haugh passed the tables at the end of the evening and mentioned her 22 years in the UK, I asked her if she had been to Ireland to see the fabulous food. She hadn’t.
While the staff was pleasant, the service felt scattered as a man in the next booth went to the service point to get his water while we had to keep asking for our wine to be brought and poured.
Trying to keep our total as cheap as possible, our bill still came to a whopping €199 with a bottle of water (€4) and service.
Anna Haugh at Conrad Dublin Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 602-8900, annahaughatconraddublin.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/lucinda-osullivans-restaurant-review-pricey-disappointing-food-with-an-oirish-flavour-at-anna-haughs-conrad-pop-up-42111044.html Restaurant review by Lucinda O’Sullivan: Expensive, disappointing Irish-flavored food in Anna Haugh’s Conrad pop-up