I've always been fascinated by how eating patterns change over the years. When I was a student I lived in Herbert Street, which housed a great many offices. Looking out of my window, I used to notice the large luxury cars starting to arrive in the morning, mostly from 10am-10.30am. At about 1pm, many of the cars would disappear, returning around 3pm then leaving for the day sometime after 5pm.
I assumed that the midday absence was for lunch. Back then, a two or three-hour lunch wasn't unusual. Today, that would be unthinkable, as would the many bottles of wine that were consumed with lunch.
Today we have perhaps an hour for lunch, and that changes how restaurants cope. They need a way to feed people quickly, and getting three courses out to your customers in less than an hour is tricky enough.
I remember when La Mere Zou first started to serve the starter and the main course for lunch on the same large plate; quite an innovation, designed entirely to get customers fed and back to work in less than an hour.
Even a lunch as quick as that has to be an improvement over a sandwich eaten in the office.
This week I went to Dublin to meet Adam Hankin, whose offices are in Dawson Street, for lunch. "Let's meet for lunch in Tigers," was his suggestion, as Tigers is also on Dawson Street in the basement of La Stampa.
With great timing, I met Adam on the stairs and we entered together.
We took a table and I looked around me. It's hard to explain, but I got the feeling that I was in a nightclub, but during the day. The decor looked as though it had been designed for low light and seemed unhappy with being bathed in lots of light.
"They do a lunch deal here," said Adam, "a main course and a soft drink for a tenner. What do you think?" Certainly good value, but I knew I'd need more courses to get a review out of it.
The menu itself is short, but very competitively priced. All the starters are €5, or you can have three for €12. Main courses are all €10 and desserts are all €3.50.
For our starters, Adam ordered the panko crab cakes and I went for the Tom Yum Goong soup. For main courses, Adam had the beef chilli, which he'd had before, and I had the lamb Massaman. We got our free minerals as well as a jug of iced water and settled in.
The starters arrived and they were both nicely presented. Adam got two golden, crispy crab cakes, which came with scallions and plum sauce. I thought my soup was well done, nicely flavoured with mushrooms, chilli, coriander and lemongrass, and with a generous number of prawns.
Adam offered me a taste of crab cake, and though they looked good and were cooked well, they had no discernible taste of crab. Had we been handed this blind, we'd never have guessed crab cakes.
The main courses arrived and I'll say at once that Adam was quite right to have ordered the chilli beef again. It really was a tasty dish and came well presented.
We tucked in, Adam enjoying his beef and me enjoying my lamb. After a bit he gave me a taste of the beef dish, and it was really good. "Can I have a taste of your lamb?" he asked. At this stage I'd eaten four pieces of lamb, so I picked through my plate only to discover that there was none left to offer Adam – all I had left were cashew nuts, shallots and baby potatoes.
So we moved on to desserts – the cheesecake for Adam and the tropical-fruit sorbets for me. The cheesecake was perfectly acceptable, but the sorbets couldn't have been more wrong. I suspect that they may have melted and got re-frozen, or maybe they were simply badly made, but they were all ruined by ice crystals, making them more like a clumsy granita than a sorbet.
What puzzled me about this was that it was a fault easily detected simply by looking. Whoever had tried to scoop these sorbets up and put them on the plate must have noticed that the consistency was all wrong. Why would you go ahead and serve something that wasn't right?
What should have happened was that I should have been told, 'the sorbets are off, would you like something else?'
As ever, we finished up with coffee – a filter coffee for Adam and an espresso for me. This brought me perhaps the smallest bill for a three-course lunch that I've been presented with in recent years: a bill for €42.90.
When you consider that in Dawson Street it's perfectly possible to spend more than €8 on a sandwich and a soft drink, it puts getting a main course and a soft drink for €10 into perspective.
Our lunch was outstanding value by any standards, although had the meal been less uneven, it could have been exceptional. It wouldn't have taken much for this meal to have been faultless, and it's possible that we were just unlucky on the day.
On a budget
You don't get more budget than €18.50 for three courses, except perhaps a main course and a soft drink for €10.
On a blowout
The dinner menu has a good selection of pan-Asian dishes, and includes some of the dishes that are on the lunch menu. Starters run from €6.50 to €9, and main courses from €15 to €17.50.
The chilli beef.