Refuel: Irish Film Institute *
6 Eustace Street, Dublin 2. Telephone: 01 6795744
Last weekend I had one very good, and one very bad, experience at the Irish Film Institute. If I wrote movie reviews, you'd be hearing all about my good experience, about how Jeff Bridges deserves the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart and how T-Bone Burnett is just the best darn thing since your momma's pecan pie.
But I don't write about movies, I write about food, and so I'm here to tell you about the other, very bad, experience I had at the IFI.
The Irish Film Institute has had a bit of a makeover recently, the shop is where the toilets used to be, the toilets are where the offices used to be. The place looks bigger and brighter. The restaurant, too, has been given a long overdue face lift, it has updated lunch and dinner menus -- and has introduced a separate tapas menu.
I was meeting The Cineaste and I had it in mind to try the tapas, but when a repeated request for the menu went unanswered, we ordered from the regular menu instead.
Starters include soup of the day, nachos and chicken wings that are intriguingly referred to as "bijou". Initially we took this to mean "small", but given that they came with "Louisiana Sauce", we reinterpreted it to mean "bayou". A malapropism, which -- according to The Cineaste -- was the gastro-equivalent of confusing Down by Law with Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Quod Deus avertat.
Moving swiftly, but solemnly, onwards to the main course menu, where the choice includes burgers (beef, chicken or veggie), falafel, fish & chips, beef & Guinness stew, lasagne with garlic bread, and chargrilled Cajun chicken, that was neither "bijou" nor "bayou" but came served "on a bed of spinach mash".
From a short salad menu, I made my opening gambit: tomato, mozzarella and basil salad. It wasn't the worst Caprese salad I've encountered, but only by a shade. The cheese had a vulcanised skin and the tomatoes were cold, bitter and underripe. Its only saving grace was an extra curricular dollop of vibrant green pesto.
The Cineaste was munching through a giant plate of nachos, which ultimately were to be the 25 watt highlight of our meal. They came with lumpy but decent guacamole, a good smokey tomato salsa, and some sour cream. Costing just €7.50, you wouldn't feel hard done by if you ordered them to share between two, with a couple of beers. At this juncture, it became clear that my second glass of the astringent house white had been forgotten and I was seized by an urge to bolt. Alas, one of the few downsides of being a reviewer is the clause that obliges you to stay until the closing credits roll.
The Cineaste ordered an omelette for his main course, which struck me as eccentric, but he probably read somewhere that Godard did the same, so I said nothing. If it was an affectation, he got what he deserved. The omelette was dense and rubbery, the fact that it was also lukewarm didn't help. It was filled with chewy bacon and chicken, which may or may not have been Cajun, but was most definitely "bijou".
Lime breaded haddock was the most abominable piece of fish ever to disgrace a plate. It was genuinely appalling, the "breading" was so dry and scorched, the chef might as well have wrapped the fish in sandpaper and deep-fried it. The haddock spread out inside it in a grey paste.
How can a cinema as high-brow as the IFI harbour such low standards when it comes to cooking? The only thing I'd have kept about the place, was our overstretched but blameless young waitress who was so cheerful and unselfconsciously gorgeous that I couldn't bear to unleash my profound unhappiness and appear like a bitter old hag alongside her. So I paid the bill and we scarpered.
On reflection, it occurs to me that the IFI would be better served by a pizzeria, or a noodle bar, or a soup kitchen. There's a lot to be said for doing one thing properly. The cinema at the Irish Film Institute is consistently left of field. The restaurant, on the other hand, has pitched itself slap bang in the middle of the road, like a dirty great pothole.
TYPICAL DISH: Cajun chicken
RECOMMENDED: BYO popcorn
THE DAMAGE: €46.05 for two starters, two mains and two glasses of wine
ON THE STEREO: Nothing
AT THE TABLE: Film buffs
WHAT TO WEAR: Specsavers
DO SAY: Seven Samurai
DON’TSAY: Seven dwarves