Some people like to live vicariously – enviously, even. I'm not one of them. After 10 years writing this column I took an eight-month break. I didn't read about where my replacement went, or what she ate. The column and I had broken up. I didn't need to see how much fun it was having with a younger, blonder woman. I always knew the column was a shallow and callous article.
After 10 years, we'd started to take each other for granted. I was bored, I was having one glass of wine too many, and while I wasn't gorging I'd certainly gained a few pounds. For its part, the column had stopped making me laugh, I could predict what it was going to say, and while we might have looked outwardly happy – we had lost our appetite for each other. Sparks were no longer flying.
I wanted to go to gigs, I wanted to drink pints with strangers and get my hands dirty in kebab shops. So I left the column and did what I wanted, while it carried on without me. Occasionally, people told me how great they thought the column and I were together. I didn't embarrass them by confessing that we'd split up. They'd find out soon enough, when they saw the column had found another woman – a woman who wasn't nearly short or dumpy or dull enough for my liking.
Fuck the column.
I was doing grand. I was trying things I would never have considered when we were together. I had just embraced a new challenge I met in radio, when the column sent me a two-word text: Wanna talk?
Thinking I was out of the woods and that talking could do us no harm, I agreed. Within minutes the column and I were back in bed. Taking it easy, we said. No pressure. Let's just see what happens.
What happened was this: I had to call the Blonde and get a run-down on what she had done while she was gallivanting around the town with my column. It pleased me none to learn that she had left the column when she got a better offer, and not vice versa. It pleased me less to discover that in my absence, the pair of them had been to every fancy new restaurant in the city, thus denying me the fresh start I was hoping for with the column.
As I read down the list: The Hot Stove, Fade Street Social . . . my interest turned to envy, and my envy turned to murderous rage. Was there anything she and the column hadn't done? There was – a place offering 64pc off dinner for two with a Groupon voucher. No bloody way.
If I couldn't have a fancy new restaurant, I'd have a fancy old one instead. I put on a pair of heels and five coats of lipstick and I marched into l'Gueuleton, demanding a table. Come back in half an hour, they said.
L'Gueuleton is my idea of fancy. Not a starched linen, poker-up-the-arse kind of fancy. But a sexy, continental kind of fancy.
Dermot, my companion, who hadn't been there before, thought it was "romantic". I covered my face with the menu and suggested he try the escargots in garlic and Pastis butter. But, Dermot, with his provincial palate, just laughed and said he'd be playing it safe with sausages. I ordered a couple of Kir Royales – one to loosen him up, the other to spite him.
I was determined to have the column eating out of my hand by the end of the night.
Only in my presence would the column realise what it had forfeited in my absence.
Dermot and I sipped dark, earthy Negroamaro and fed each other crusts of focaccia smeared with chicken liver and foie gras parfait. When it comes to classic French cooking, l'Gueuleton nearly always nails it. The soft, luscious parfait was rich and pungent without a hint of sourness – sweet, spiced pear knocked the intensely savoury corners off it.
I tried to satisfy Dermot's passion for sausages with a saucisse de Morteau salad.
Morteau sausage – rightly dubbed la Belle de Morteau – is my charcuterie of choice.
I love the stuff, but you've got to cook it properly. Boil it and half the flavour ends up in the water. It should be wrapped in foil and roasted to seal in all the flavoursome smoke and spice, then fried on a hot pan to make it good and crispy. The Morteau in my salad was perfect – a mix of leaves for freshness, tomato for sweetness, shallots, and a spray of tiny, but explosive, surfine capers.
Aside from smooth service, an ever-changing wine-list by the glass, and an interesting specials menu, a good reason to like l'Gueuleton is that it's one of the few mid-priced restaurants in the city that uses fish imaginatively and cooks it properly. Aquatic offerings include crab cocktail, smoked mackerel paté, grilled rope mussels, Carlingford oysters, grilled hake with fennel, and skate wing served with capers, raisins and pine nuts.
I fancied the skate, but it wasn't available. Instead I was offered – and accepted – two handsome fillets of John Dory.
The fish was perfectly timed with scorched skin and a golden underbelly, it was spanking fresh, with a meaty texture and a slightly sweet, slightly salty flavour. Again, baby capers played a leading role, adding juicy bursts of flavour to every forkful. A well-appointed jumble of rocket, red chard, pickled shallot and tomatoes joined the fish. All told, it was a more than ample understudy for the errant skate.
Dermot was trying my patience with his whiny demand for more sausages. Nothing less than a gobful of Jane Russell's finest Toulousaines was going to shut him up. Who goes to a restaurant to eat sausages that you can buy in a supermarket and teach your dog/child/boyfriend to cook?
And while there's no debating Missus Russell's sausages are meatier, spicier and generally superior to other shop-bought bangers – they are incredibly salty. The accompanying choucroute and Lyonnaise potatoes were, by way of contrast, an unprocessed delight.
Dermot wanted to know if I'd made peace with the column. I looked to the bottom of my coffee cup for an answer. There wasn't enough espresso left to scald a gnat, never mind a man. It feels just the same, I told him.
Completely natural. Like riding one of those city bikes. You don't know who's been in the saddle before you.
TYPICAL DISH: Sautéd lamb's liver, sweetbreads, smoked Alsace bacon, Lyonnaise potatoes, Savoy cabbage
RECOMMENDED: Fish specials
THE DAMAGE: €133.20 for two starters, two mains, one dessert, two aperitifs, six glasses of wine, one caffe machiato
ON THE STEREO: iPod shuffle
AT THE TABLE: Handsome folk of all persuasions