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Burning anger replaced by a warm welcome

Published 9 March 2008
News Review
764th article



Ireland is always a pleasure. People in the hospitality industry there are genuinely hospitable. Unlike the English, who are mainly snooty and inept. Or the French working in England, who are even worse than the French working in France. And that's saying something.

I once went to Dublin during "the troubles" to give a movie lecture. Driving from the airport my Irish host said, "My wife was going to meet you too, but she's on an anti-British march."

Then, as we passed a charred building, "That's the British embassy, we burnt it down last week," explained my host with immense charm.

The interviewer for my lecture asked me to meet him at the theatre at 7pm. I turned up at 6.55. The place looked as if it had been abandoned for decades.

Eventually someone put me in a little dressing room. I waited. 7pm passed. So at 7.15pm, with no one to meet me, I peeked into the auditorium. Two people sat there. At 7.30, when my talk was meant to start, this had increased to six people. At 7.40pm the interviewer turned up.

"I came here at 7 o'clock, as you asked," I said rather icily.

"Oh, we never turn up on time in Ireland," said the interviewer, "the other fellow may not be ready." By 8.15 the place was packed. They were a marvellous audience.

I remembered that when being driven recently from the airport for a "plug my diet book" weekend involving Dublin's top TV talk show and press interviews.

We passed Messrs Maguire housed in a lovely old 1808 building on the Liffey. "Master Brewers" was painted on the wall above four lanterns. "It's for very young people like yourself, very trendy," our chauffeur Keiron McBride told me.

"I'm not young, I'm 110," I responded.

When I arrived at the elegant Shelbourne hotel I asked them to book lunch at Messrs Maguire. They replied, "We've heard very mixed reports about it."

"Just book it. This is immaculate, I don't want everything immaculate," I said.

Inside Messrs Maguire, it's fantastic. Old carved bars with 19th-century carvings behind, carved wood and wrought iron bannisters - a lot of the building is listed. The rest came from old buildings or antique shops. Except for a brightly lit self-service area on the ground floor.

"I've only got pound notes," I announced to the barman-waiter Michael Gallagher. "We give a very bad rate of exchange," he replied.

The manager, Eamonn McNelis, agreed I could sit down and they'd serve us. My chauffeur lent me some euros.

On the first floor the large room was a delight. Another superbly carved bar, a fireplace. old bookcases, wonderful plaster cornices. Six tables well spaced apart, very comfortable leather chairs. Lovely, quietly spoken Irish people.

Maguire brew their own beers. I was offered extra stout, red Irish ale, Christmas beer aka yule log, a weiss beer and pilsner lager. "The yule log is very strong," advised Michael.

"I don't want to get drunk too quickly," I replied. "I'll have a glass of extra stout." Soft, creamy, utterly memorable. I declined a tour of their brewery downstairs. I'll drink it. I don't care how it's manufactured.

I started with pea and ham soup. "Made on our premises this morning," announced Michael. It tasted like it. The brown crusty bread was exceptionally good. To follow I had a plate which would have filled three people. There was honey-glazed collar of bacon, with gravy in a bowl, fantastic mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, carrots, stuffing, cabbage and a bowl of parsley sauce. All totally excellent.

Geraldine started not liking her chicken wings. She thought the sauce was put on afterwards rather than cooked with them. But then she added some white sauce and decided they were tender and juicy. There wasn't a chicken wing left. "There's masses left," she said. Her bowl had six left out of about 3,680 that she started with. She kept eating the six remaining.

The chef told me the desserts were bought in and the best of them was the sticky toffee pudding. It was revolting sludge. They should bake an apple pie or something and keep it all in the home-made style the rest of the meal was. Geraldine was also upset with her espresso coffee.

Outside there was a lovely view of the Liffey, the O'Connell bridge and double-decker buses in yellow and two shades of blue. They crumbed down (wiped the crumbs off) after the first course, which is rare. And then changed the blue paper napkins for yellow ones.

A pleasant meal which only cost Euro 40.50, which I make Pounds 28.32 including wine for Geraldine. That's a bargain.



Michael's missives

You recounted, last week, a "fatal visit" to Nobu in 1997. Have you been writing from the grave all this time?
Richard Evans, Somerset

Sharing that appalling Chris Rea joke with us proved another example of how bad your taste is, except in women.
Robert Sandall, London

What a whizzer of a lady the lovely Geraldine must be to tolerate your lunching your still stunning old flame Vanessa. Now that takes class!
Dennis Pallis, Kent

Two days before I was to return BA from Turkey, they told me they'd re arranged the flight, so I had to go back three days later. I spent the extra time trying to tell their chief executive, Willie Walsh, why it would be another 20 years before I flew BA again. I finally got through to an assistant in his office who said, "He won't talk to you. He just doesn't talk to customers."
Tony Graham-Enock, Suffolk

Don't make any long-term plans, Michael, you'll soon be dropping off the perch with all the junk food you eat. Here in Durham we're arranging a farewell feast after you've gone. So please give us as much notice as possible. We'll have kippers and custard with a pint of "brown". None of your culinary rubbish for us lads up north.
Frank Davison, Durham