Some restaurants are special, but get even better if they're enjoyed from the 'best seat in the house'. Like the theatre, the cinema or a match in the Aviva, where you sit can make a massive difference to the overall dining experience.
You often hear of maitre Ds keeping a special VIP table free for the inevitable arrival of star guests, or the horror stories of customers being moved from their table mid-starter after somebody arrives demanding their "usual" seat. And while I like to see the experience from all angles – be it sitting at the bar, down beside the jacks or wedged into a corner where nobody can see me – there's no denying that the right seat can prove the cherry on top for a top-class feed.
When I walked into Drury Buildings I had the pick of the place – not because I'm with Lovin Dublin, before you say anything, but because I was the annoying customer who walks in at 12.01 wondering what time they open (knowing the answer full well but giving them the one-minute grace time because I'm a nice guy).
The sun was beaming down in Dublin, so I said I'd chance eating outside – and by pure fluke, I found the best seats in the capital to eat on a terrace. There are only three tables of two, so you'd be doing well to land one of them, but they're beautifully perched on a tiny terrace where the sun can get at you and you can smoke in peace. (I wasn't smoking myself, but I know these are important factors for people who do.)
An added bonus was the fact that you could hear the buzz from the kitchen with pots and pans clinking, and I was especially pleased to hear them shouting "vaffanculo" at each other, given the Italian food on the menu.
I'm always suspicious of Italian food in Dublin. With the exception of a couple of places (step forward Pinocchio and Terra Madre), I've had too many shitty experiences to get too excited. But something – maybe it was the Italians shouting in the kitchen, maybe it was the warm weather or maybe it was the absolutely superb bread and olive oil – made me feel like I was right in the middle of Tuscany as I soaked in the rays on this wonderful little terrace.
Suddenly I felt my hard-nosed attitude towards Italian food in the city softening, and wondering: could this be the real deal? I was a bit dubious because I'd had a meal here on opening week that was pretty awful, but didn't write about it because all kitchens get it wrong at the start.
But let's just say I'm glad I gave them the second chance.
By the time I had a mouthful of the melon and prosciutto salad I knew this was something special. Each bite was like being transported to the Med in the height of summer – and maybe it was the sun putting me in a good mood, but I wondered why all Italian food couldn't be this good in Ireland.
The only logical answers I could come up with were the ripeness of the melon (there's huge skill involved in selecting and storing them correctly) and the seasoning, which was spot on. And that's the thing about this type of dining: on such tiny details rest the difference between ordinary and world-class food. In this case, they nailed it.
It still wasn't time to wave the tricolore aloft, though; as I licked the plate I thought to myself: "The fuckers might have gotten this alright so far but pasta is up next. Time for the ultimate acid test." But to say they nailed it would be an understatement.
Easily one of the best plates of pasta I have ever eaten – be it inside Italy or abroad – and that is saying something. Sauce perfectly coating the pasta, juicy succulent prawns, a deep rich shellfish sauce and crucially the portion size which filled me perfectly but left me licking the plate and craving more. The final sign that this was the real deal? The small bowl of pasta served to enjoy AFTER your pasta, which I've never actually seen in Ireland but which is so common in Italy.
This is how you do it.
Sometimes food takes you to an entirely new place when you least expect it. The Italians, of course, figured this out centuries ago and put so much importance on home cooking and good produce while enjoying meals with the family.
And likewise, in reverse, sometimes a place – the context – makes you taste food entirely differently.
If I'd had that same meal inside the restaurant or down in the bar, would I have beenso utterly beaming? To be fair, it's impossible to say – it's unlikely, but impossible to be sure about. But what I can be sure about is that those six little seats are the best place to enjoy summer lunch in the sun or a late evening plate of pasta.
I'm fucking livid that I have to share my little secret... but such is life.