Ui Rathaile said he would come to dinner at Gibson's with me if I went to see the Francis Bacon studio in the Hugh Lane with him. In other words, if he agreed to waste an evening on the shallow and very stupid pursuit of eating for amusement, I'd have to appreciate something of merit and meaning. Art, I think, he called it.
I went, of course. And what I learned was this: Bacon was a messy bugger. His studio was a sordid tip -- strewn with empty tubes and tins, hardened brushes, filthy rags and spent bottles. I made the mistake of pondering aloud whether his landlord had been aware of the mounting squalor. Ui Rathaile glared at me and proclaimed that beauty IS squalid.
We crossed the Ha'penny Bridge in sulky silence and I wondered to myself why do we persist. Aware that he might at any moment take off to a public house to drown his disappointment in me, I swallowed hard and said that Bacon's studio had affected me deeply. It wasn't untrue. And I managed to say it with enough conviction for him to honour his end. Thus, into Gibson's we strolled.
Gibson's is as twee as twee can be and therefore full of ladies. Ui Rathaile looked dark and gothic and furiously out of place. He poked the menu and asked me to explain how porridge could cost €4.50 when you can make it at home for 10c a bowl. I might have sprung to Gibson's defence if I wasn't so annoyed that its website had promised a full dinner menu from Monday to Friday. I'd primed my appetite for French onion soup and Toulouse cassoulet only to be told by our waiter that dinner was, in fact, served on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights only.
And so we had to make do with a limited specials menu, comprising a choice of just six dishes. They all cost €8.95. There were two chicken salads -- one was "healthy", the other "Mexican". There was also something called a "Chicken Casadia" that involved a "Tortia". Ui Rathaile kicked off with that. It was, in essence, a quesadilla. A flat tortilla filled with greasy red cheddar cheese and tough and stringy chicken breast. On the side there was some pureed avocado that dared to call itself guacamole, a salsa that was devoid of chilli, and sour cream that was somehow mislabelled "Savoie" on the menu.
Words apparently have no meaning at Gibson's. We each ordered a pichet of wine -- but our wine arrived in glasses. Pichet is such an evocative word, it has a lovely ring to it, as does "Savoie" -- and, for that matter, "dinner". The problem is if you advertise these things, people will expect you to deliver on them. Particularly when your customers happen to be Miss Pedantic and Sir Semantic. Clearly Gibson's is not concerned how such a pair might view the absurdly Shakespearean sounding Casadia and Tortia.
Then came an unexpected bolt of genius: my fish soup was divine. Soft, pristine pieces of lemon sole, with plump mussels and a dozen clams in cream infused with fragrant lime leaves. There were a couple of sprigs of lambs lettuce for greenery and an occasional burst of warm, sweet cherry tomato. It hung together beautifully and sang of summertime. An absolute steal for €8.95 and as good a starter as you'll get in this town.
Confused and delighted, we headed into the next course. Ui Rathaile opted for the rabbit and ham pie, which was as cosmetically perfect as a pie can be: a deep golden pastry crust rising and falling with the steamy breath of the goodness beneath. He stabbed it with his fork and the pastry lid capsized into a milky green leek soup, bobbing with uniform cubes of mysteriously tasteless ham and rabbit flesh that might as well have been chicken for all the flavour it added. The accompanying ramekin of mashed potato was too smooth for Ui Rathaile, but I liked it.
My confit duck leg was dripping with grease. Allowing for the expected fattiness of the confit, neither of us could conceive how it came to be so sodden with oil. The menu said baby potatoes, but what accompanied it was a potato salad with carrots, chives and celery thrown in for good measure. It was pretty good -- in a wholesome, Germanic kind of way -- and would have been a fine match for cold cuts of meat.
Without warning, the music stopped and there seemed to be a lot of cleaning going on. It was 7pm, and Gibson's was apparently closing for the night. We asked for coffee, but the machine had been switched off. We ordered an orange mousse from the dessert fridge. It was underwhelming. In search of reasons to be cheerful, I found myself clinging to the fish soup and the decent service provided by one of the waiters. Then I went to the bathroom and was greeted by a urinal and a toilet side by side, a golden hand drier and a wall papered with back issues of the Beano. Suddenly I was back in Bacon territory, wondering why everything has to be so bloody complicated.
TYPICAL DISH: Rabbit and ham pie
RECOMMENDED: Fish soup
THE DAMAGE: €61.80 for four dishes, four glasses of wine, one dessert
ON THE STEREO: Nina Simone
AT THE TABLE: Ladies