Dating back to 1852, this Dublin hotel has long had a special place in the hearts of Irish people - especially the clergy and the many who regarded it as a home from home when 'up from the country' for business or shopping in Dublin - largely because of its convenience to Heuston Station.
Since the early '90s, however, it has achieved cult status through its owners - Bono and The Edge of U2 - who have completely refurbished the hotel, sparing no expense. In general they have reflected the the hotel's original arts and crafts style whenever possible, although the recently re-launched restaurant (now Cleaver East) has taken a different direction.
Accommodation currently offers a combination of contemporary comfort and period style, with all the expected amenities including mini-bar, private safe, complimentary broadband and temperature control panels.
Public areas include the clublike, oak-panelled Octagon Bar, which is a popular Temple Bar meeting place, and The Study, a quieter room with an open fire.
Parking is available in several multi-storey car parks within walking distance; valet parking is available for guests.
Conference/banqueting (60/70); video conferencing on request; Secretarial service; Laptop-sized safe in rooms. Beauty treatments, massage, Therapy @ The Clarence (also available to non-residents). Children welcome (Under 12s free in parents' room, cots available without charge, baby sitting arranged). No pets.
Rooms 49 (5 suites, incl 1 penthouse; 21 executive, 4 family rooms, 6 no smoking, 1 for disabled). Lift. 24 hr room service, turndown service. Room rate about €340; SC discretionary.
Remember the elegant, spacious Art Deco dining room in The Clarence Hotel? Well, it’s long gone – and in its place is a contemporary restaurant that offsets skilful cooking and artful presentation against a faux-grungy backdrop full of rock’n’roll attitude.
After an initial flirtation with a casual dining proposition of small plates, the menu was transformed into a more conventional three-course structure. But fans of this Temple Bar showcase of chef-proprietor Oliver Dunne’s considerable talents will be pleased to hear that many of his signature Cleaver East dishes remain on offer within the new format.
The dark and moody ambience remains intact, too, with a three-tier dining room that brings a New York edge to Temple Bar dining. The space is dominated by a central bar with tower-like shelves that stretch up to an exposed beam ceiling. The oversized leather stools, racks of martini glasses and rows of premium liquor bottles peeping out from behind chicken wire all suggest this is a bar worth lingering at (something born out by the choice of imaginative cocktails promoted as part of the ‘Not Afternoon Tea’ menu). The rest of the room is full of striking details, with ample banquettes, mosaic tiling and a repeated motif of angled cleavers lining the impressive windows.
Those cleaver motifs are repeated on the menu, which boasts a dedicated ‘Beef Cuts @ CleaverEast’ section featuring several choice cuts of grass-fed beef from various corners of the country. So you might choose a 40-day salt-cured striploin from Northern Irish butcher Peter Hannan’s Himalayan salt chamber, or share a bone-in Cote de Boeuf from hand-selected Angus beef that has been reared in the Slane Valley.
That carnivorous theme continues with a monthly burger special bearing the social media-friendly moniker of #pornburger. Described on the website as stemming from Dunne’s “love of simple food that you just shut up, eat and bloody enjoy”, expect indulgent feasts such as grass-fed Black Angus beef and potato skins filled with cheesy bacon, garlic mayo, creamed corn and rocket leaves.
Other meaty main courses demonstrate an imaginative approach to flavour and texture, such as confit left of duck with rosemary polenta chips, pickled beetroot and roast onion mayo and pomegranate gel. And there are clever takes on classic starters such as a Hereford beef carpaccio with lemon puree, Parmesan mayo and chive and rocket salad.
But for all its unapologetic celebration of red-blooded fare, there is much here to please non-meat-eaters too. Many of the seafood dishes boast bold flavour pairings – think pan-fried sea trout with brown shrimp dressing, spinach and smoked almond butter, topped shamelessly with crunchy pork scratchings.
Starters are not to be skipped, and hard to choose between thanks to their inspired approach to quality ingredients from both near (Fivemiletown goats cheese panna cotta with smoked honeycomb) and far (burrata and heirloom tomato salad with an orange and sherry vinegar gel). An inspired dish of salt and pepper squid scattered with crumbed black olive for extra umami and contrasted with a zesty salad of fennel, orange and pickled chilli deserves to become a Cleaver East classic.
Prices are accessible, with most mains coming in between €22–€24, but there is plenty of opportunity to bump up a bill, with €10-plus starters, a plethora of tempting side dishes and some rather unmissable desserts. Pick from a short but imaginative choice, such as a brilliant deconstructed Black Forest gateau with vanilla mascarpone and chocolate foam – or opt for the Cleaver East Dessert Tasting for Two and let them choose for you.
Service is attentive and eager, if slightly let down by a lack of training in areas such as wine service. But it is the quality of the food that makes the lasting impression. Chef Oliver Dunne knows how to put together a great menu. With his attention split between Cleaver East and his north county Dublin outpost, Bon Appetit in Malahide, it is unlikely that he is cooking every night in the kitchen here – but the good news is that he clearly has a team who are more than capable of delivering on his artful vision.