Gar­den party with touch of style

Choose care­fully and lunch won’t come with a bill that re­quires a de­fib­ril­la­tor charging on standby

The Irish Times Magazine - - DRINK - CATHER­INE CLEARY

Ilove The Mer­rion for its deep couches, creaky floors and heavy sil­ver tea pots. A group of us used to sink into the cush­ioned lux­ury of an af­ter­noon tea once a year in the run- up to Christ­mas. In the early years we shared a tiered cake stand be­tween two or some­one might choose from the bar menu while oth­ers had the full works. We fell away from it af­ter they in­tro­duced the Every­one Has to Or­der Af­ter­noon Tea rule in the busy run- up to Christ­mas. It was cake stands for all in De­cem­ber so we gath­ered our skirts and went else­where.

Mirac­u­lously the Dublin ho­tel op­po­site Gov­ern­ment build­ings on Mer­rion Row sur­vived with­out us. In fact it’s thrived, with a port­fo­lio of places to eat un­der its roof, each with their own dis­tinct per­son­al­ity. There’s Guil­baud’s of course, the Cel­lar Bar with its cosy clubby res­tau­rant, and those fire­side draw­ing rooms with their pas­try trib­utes to the ho­tel’s art col­lec­tion. And the lat­est ad­di­tion is The Gar­den Room which over­looks the court­yard gar­den where sculp­tor Rowan Gille­spie’s Joyce sun­dial is weath­er­ing nicely with verdi­gris- like tears on the writer’s wist­ful face. Joyce seems happy look­ing away from the bolt- on bal­conies on the newer part of the ho­tel, which have not weath­ered as beau­ti­fully.

We get a ta­ble at the floor- to- ceil­ing win­dow. It’s a gen­er­ous round wicker ta­ble with a glass top and com­fort­able wicker chairs for the full “mas­ter of all you sur­vey” feel­ing. My brother won­ders if they move the wicker fur­ni­ture out­side in the sum­mer. He’s been liv­ing in warmer places with more pre­dictable sea­sons for a while.

The fern- dec­o­rated menu is the size of a Ber­liner news­pa­per and with al­most as many words. We feel like a nap af­ter get­ting to the end. It’s a menu that is ris­ing above the cul­ture of small plate eat­ing, apart from a “snacks” sec­tion at the start, which I pre­sume trans­lates as smaller starters. They wel­come all com­ers here, ac­cord­ing to a leg­end at the top of the menu, in­clud­ing those who want “a speedy salad or a re­laxed din­ner”.

We fall some­where be­tween those two but that’s okay. Ser­vice is ex­cel­lent, friendly and pro­fes­sional. We get warm bread with Gle­nilen but­ter that’s served waxy and hard from the fridge rather than at room tem­per­a­ture. The bread is lovely but has none of the tang or tacky tex­ture of what I’d call sour dough.

My wood pi­geon starter is earth­ier than I ex­pect with a sliver of fried liver un­der the tiny leg and breast meat like a tip of a hat to the man out­side and his love of or­gan meats. It’s on a small bowl of lentils and car­rots diced to len­til- sized cubes. I’d like a lit­tle more as­trin­gency to the sauce to lift it all out of its bass reg­is­ter but it’s still great hearty cook­ing for an all- day ho­tel menu.

My mum’s goat and beet riff is a good take on this menu trope. Jane Mur­phy’s Ard­sal­lagh goats cheese has been whipped into a cloudy creamy cir­cle. I chaired a panel of women pro­duc­ers with Jane at the Feast Cork fes­ti­val re- cently and heard some great anec­dotes from the other side of the cheese mak­ers’ stall.

When she first started sell­ing in one Dublin mar­ket, she dubbed her clien­tele the newly weds and the nearly deads be­cause every­one seemed to be push­ing ei­ther a buggy or a zim­mer frame.

They’ve done a lovely plate with her cheese here. There are prop­erly crisp rounds of pur­ple beet stand­ing up sen­tinel style in the cheese sur­rounded by chunks of lus­cious golden beets, like stored up sun­shine. There are capers and golden raisins to bring it all to­gether with sim­ple sweet and sour notes. It is so much bet­ter a treat­ment of veg­eta­bles than the smoked car­rots side dish which is more wa­tery than a Novem­ber weather fore­cast.

The only main we get is the pork belly spe­cial, a beau­ti­fully pre­sented plate of juicy pork belly fin­ished with a spiced glaze on skin scored into di­a­monds. The duff note is the mi­cro co­rian­der on the top which wilted un­der a heat lamp be­fore it came to the ta­ble. Like­wise the de­li­cious salad care­fully plated to mir­ror the shape of the pork would have been bet­ter with­out ex­po­sure to heat. It’s a haz­ard of a dish with hot and cold halves.

Dessert looks beau­ti­ful, as you’d ex­pect. A fat pear halved and poached is topped with ice- cream, a disk of de­hy­drated pear sits on top threaded through with a choco­late scroll. The pear is lovely but could be softer. I like my poached pears to be slice­able with a spoon. This one needs a knife and fork.

We fin­ish with good cof­fee served in green and white china ob­vi­ously cho­sen for the res­tau­rant with its leafy theme. I like the Gar­den Room. Choose care­fully and lunch won’t come with a bill that re­quires a de­fib­ril­la­tor charging on standby. If af­ter­noon tea is booked out for De­cem­ber, you could forgo the fin­ger sand­wiches and do a lot worse than book a ta­ble here.

Lunch for three with a glass of wine, sparkling wa­ter and two cof­fees came to ¤ 103.50.

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