It's a hard thing to live with the knowledge that your choice in restaurant led to someone having a bad birthday, but this much I know -- I had help.
Having been pestered for weeks by the boy to try Dux & Co's new restaurant on Wellington Quay, I relented and booked us in for the anniversary of his birth.
Dux & Co has a reputation for serving up food at Dublin's weekly food markets and festivals like Electric Picnic and Body and Soul. It's the kind of wholesome hearty fare that keeps you going on those long, cold and wet weekends that constitute summer festivals in Ireland. This is literally award-winning food (they won a Dublin Street Food Award) so I'm looking forward to some home-style cooking that is 'pocket-friendly, big-flavoured and wholesome', according to their website.
The décor is charming in that modern shabby chic way -- polished wooden floors, chintzy floral wallpaper, chandeliers and cute crockery -- although the brown-Sellotaped air vent is just shabby. We are seated in a lounging area just inside the door, which would easily fit three extra tables.
They're losing out on plate settings for the sake of this folly of couches and swings -- yes, there's a swing, a nod to their festival roots.
There's a little untidy sink area behind the till, which is unappetising and could be easily covered with a screen, but this is a new restaurant and I'm sure they'll get to it.
We sit and are handed a corkscrew by the waitress, while we're waiting so we can open our bottle of wine. It's BYOB at the moment as they have no liquor license as of yet.
This is the first time I have been in a restaurant with a man where he has had to prise open the bottle of wine between his thighs, but I'm willing to go with it and we have a laugh about the rough and tumble nature of the place.
The waitress is barely audible and seems almost a little embarrassed to be there, as if her real job is as an artist, or an actor perhaps.
Maybe she's just shy, but a diffident waitress is a strangely unnerving presence in a restaurant. She shows us to our table, which is wobbly. We try valiantly to steady it. On the floor is the paraphernalia of those who have tried and failed before us -- folded up DART tickets, a bottle top. We give up, with no help offered from staff. I suppose they have their hands full with the two long tables by the window, which are occupied by two large parties (we were warned of this in our reservation email). The first finishes up quickly, but the second is just getting warmed up.
We order some olives (€2.50), which the boyfriend declares 'weird' but I think are fine, maybe a little strongly flavoured. The waitress tells us nervously that she doesn't want to rush us but we might want to order immediately, you know, before the large table get their order in. We comply and I have the smoked chicken croquettes with tarragon aioli and the boy has patatas bravas (both €6).
The croquettes are a surprisingly bad affair. Doughy, cold, pasty, quite disgusting. The patatas bravas are competent.
For our mains, I go for as simple as possible -- homemade beef, parmesan and herb meatballs in a vodka, mascarpone and tomato sauce with sauteed potatoes, which we both agree are excellent.
The boy has the slow-cooked pulled pork sandwich with homemade BBQ sauce, coleslaw and sweet potato fries (both €12), which he declared only okay.
At this point, the distinct aroma of jealousy wafts across the table and so I grudgingly swap plates. It is his birthday, after all, and it's bad luck to cry on your birthday.
Between courses the giant party table has been milling about, in and out for cigarette breaks, greeting each other's return with piercing screams, joined at a later stage by extra guests, with bags of cans, who begin randomly pulling chairs up to the table in an ad hoc manner, as one might do, for example, in one's own kitchen.
The BYOB rule is a dicey one. Things can get interesting surprisingly fast when you've got litre bottles of alcopops on the table and naggins of whiskey protruding from jean pockets. The piece de resistance ... a girl blowing bubbles at the table.
At this point, it feels a little like we've stumbled into an unpredictable game of chicken with an etiquette manual, which is usually the point at which I leave or get into a fight.
But these aren't options tonight. This is the boy's birthday, for God's sake, so we aren't leaving until we have some cake.
We order a brownie. You can't go wrong with a brownie, right?
Apparently, you can. It tastes like a box-mix, dry with sickly-sweet chocolate icing. We take a bite each for the ritual then leave.
Maybe it is the fact that it is his birthday, but even the boy has nothing good to say about Dux & Co.
And this is the man who, on previous occasions, has suggested that certain meals are supposed to be served at cooler temperatures than others in a desperate attempt to protect establishments from my righteous ire.
To be fair, I really believe we have caught Dux & Co on a remarkably bad night, but they are clearly not able to cope with such a large group. I do try to go back for lunch, but they are closed (they don't open Mondays).
The pricing is excellent -- lunch costs from €4.50 to €7.50 and dinner mains don't go above €12. It's cheap, but I wouldn't sit through the same meal again if someone paid me.
There are all sorts of nice little touches all over the restaurant, like bottle openers dangling on strings from each table and silly but cute mini-graters for your fresh Parmesan.
It seems like the owners really want to achieve something individual with Dux & Co with plans for a Single Mingle and Movie Nights . . . which might suit better than trying to have a romantic birthday meal.
TYPICAL DISH: A one-pot wonder of Mediterranean or American provenance
THE DAMAGE: €40.50 for two starters, two mains, one desert and one coffee and €3 for corkage
ON THE STEREO: Nothing until, suddenly and inexplicably, around 10 o'clock, festival favourites Beach House and Chromatics filled the restaurant.
AT THE TABLE: Festival veterans
Dux & Co, 51 Wellington Quay, By Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin 2 Tel 01 6139854