I went looking for a simple lunch, and I decided to go ethnic. Diwali is a small Indian and Nepalese restaurant on that strip of South Great George's Street that now seems to be almost entirely restaurants.
In the space of maybe 50 yards, you can find The Good World, SoHo Restaurant, Brasserie Sixty6, Yamamori Noodles and Diwali. Extend your walk by another 50 yards and there are even more restaurants to choose from. Apart from Monkstown Crescent, I can't think of anywhere else with so many restaurants side by side.
Once upon a time a situation like this sometimes led to cosy cartels, with all the restaurants pitching their prices very close to one another. This year it seems instead to have produced competition, because what got me in the door of Diwali was the sign outside that said 'two-course lunch €9.99'.
Now, I've paid more than that for a take-away burger, so I was more than curious to see exactly what could be on offer for so little.
Inside it's compact but not crushed. The tables are set simply but well, and, as in most Indian restaurants, the service is polite and quick. As soon as I sat down I was handed a menu and a basket of papadums, which I snacked on as I chose. Two small pots of dips arrived with them, a mint and yogurt dip and a spicy one.
The menu is very straightforward -- three starters and three main courses -- and I chose the vegetable pakora to start with, chopped vegetable balls dipped in gram flour and deep-fried. For my main course, I picked the lamb chilli and garlic masala.
I ordered a large bottle of sparkling water, a bottle of Cobra beer and waited for my starter. Now, when you're paying less than €10 for your lunch, where exactly do you place your expectations? Bear in mind that more than a euro of that €9.99 goes to the Government in VAT, so, in fact, I was being fed for less than €9.
Put simply, my expectations were not high. But when my vegetable pakora arrived it was good -- not memorable, but as good as any I've been given in other restaurants. It looked well on the plate and I enjoyed it.
Often I'm unable to finish the main course, but this time it wasn't a problem. I got a tasty lamb dish, but I counted the pieces of lamb and there were five of them. Actually, it turned out to be perfectly sufficient for my lunch, but trenchermen might find the portions a tad exiguous.
Perfectly cooked rice -- and plenty of it -- accompanied my lamb and soon I found myself in need of an espresso to round off the meal. Not a bad meal at all, and frankly extraordinary value. At these prices, it's almost cheaper to eat out than eat at home. Next time someone bores you with a tale of a meal in Spain for less than €10, point them to Diwali.