Last week I had lunch at the only Swedish restaurant in Ireland. A blue and yellow barn in Ballymun they call IKEA. Perhaps you've heard of it.
IKEA doesn't just sell food, it sells kitchens, coffee tables, foot stools, spatulas, pillows and small foam circles to put on the legs of your furniture so it doesn't mark when you drag it across the wooden floor. IKEA can meet the needs you don't even know you have. And suggest a couple more besides.
I went there with The Cartoonist, who needed a new bed. It's always good to get a woman's opinion, he said. Do women have different expectations from their beds? I like a hard bed myself. And nothing that squeaks, if you please.
After much conjugal posturing in bedroom showroom, we settled on a masculine bed frame and a mattress that was sprung in five zones, with a layer of memory foam and a 25-year guarantee. My work here is done, I thought. But no, The Cartoonist had been sucked in by the centrifugal forces of consumerism and was now galloping bareback on a horse named Fiscal Abandon. By the end of the spree, he'd bought a new bedside table, a shaggy white carpet and a duvet cover with not two, but FOUR!!! matching pillow cases. He grew so giddy I thought I was going to have to slap his face.
When we finally got to the restaurant, he apologised. I don't know what came over me, he said. After the high, comes the low. He shuffled along the self-service counter in an exhausted stupor. Mind you, I can't say I felt much more inspired myself. Pale salads, dull matte gravadlax, a procession of bored looking sandwiches, and a fridge full of pre-sliced cakes. I don't know what the Swedish for Eat Me is, but none of them said it.
Four jolly men stood behind the hot counter. Happy to serve chips with everything, if that's what the plain people of Ireland wanted -- and it was. I watched a stream of shoppers ask for chips instead of potatoes. Then, when it was my turn, I played the curmudgeon's card and ordered potatoes with my Swedish meatballs. And it is on that righteous rock that I shall perish. No kidding, I'd board a coffin ship before I'd eat an IKEA spud again: yellow, watery balls of bitterness that they are. The meatballs were grey and so rubbery they bounced along the plate. The gravy was grave, and the red currant jam would have done on a scone, but not with meat and potatoes.
Worse still was the salmon fillet. It was apparently served with chive and dill sauce, but all I could make out was a pat of green buttery stuff and a sticky yellow substance that tasted remarkably like lemon curd. The salmon was tough, with too strong a flavour for my palate. It came with carrots, and with another vegetable that looked like yellow carrot, or some variation of turnip, but which tasted only of savoury water and so I couldn't be sure.
Coffee was weak and muddy, but the slice of chocolate and almond cake made with IKEA Daim bars wasn't half bad, in fact, it was relatively good. Good enough to make me have a poke around the IKEA foodstore in the check-out hall. I found the Daim cake in the freezer section, where it retails for under €4. I also came across a kilo of prawns in their shells for €4.75, boxes of Anna's delicious ginger snap biscuits for a euro, and workaday filter coffee for €1.65.
Just because something is cheap doesn't mean it is good value. The restaurant in IKEA is a dismal, soulless hangar, with an atmosphere I can only describe as robotic. Our lunch for two people cost €14.30, but the food tasted simulated, and was ultimately worth nothing. In fact, it had a negative value, when you consider the time spent queuing for it, eating it, and bemoaning it.
For €14.30, I could have bought myself a clatter of coffee mugs, a few metres of fabric and a hook to hang my robe on the back of the bathroom door. IKEA, you are as seductive as they say and, yes, I will love you forever, so long as you promise to never again cook for me.
TYPICAL DISH: Meatballs
RECOMMENDED: Daim cake
THE DAMAGE: €14.30 for two mains, one dessert, two bottles of water, one bread roll, two coffees
ON THE STEREO: Nothing
AT THE TABLE: Families
WHAT TO WEAR: Leisure pants
DO SAY: Why pay more?
DON’T SAY: Hang the expense