During my early years in Galway, I would haunt a little rundown French wine bar on Flood St (so named for its drowned state on rainy days). The walls were patched white where the maroon paint had cracked and chipped away. One corner was festooned with faded pictures of the local petanque club. Shelves heaved with weathered recipe books that probably hadn't been opened in decades. The fondue arrived in an electric pot with a plug so worn, the wires were exposed; sometimes the pot didn't work.
Despite its careworn appearance, the dive had a certain charm. In the evenings, it was a shadowy, candlelit cave frequented by artists and students taking shelter from the rain while a jazz band or pianist swayed in the corner. By the end of the night, a woozy, quiet camaraderie would develop among us down-at-heel patrons; we shared the pleasure of forgetting our worries with cheese and wine and blue notes.
When the fondue pot worked, you waited eagerly for the cheese to bubble, which you ate with cubes of bread and a salad of simply dressed lettuce. By the end of the meal, you were given an egg that you cracked into the pot, to mix with the wine-infused cheese and bits of bread that had fallen away from your fork.
It was a simple meal, but eaten with the cheapest, still v. good wine, it was the finest meal you ever had. Your shitty day had fallen away, and your poverty wasn't so severe, and your marriage would last a little while longer.
The wine bar doesn't exist anymore. Now Galway is full of bistros, gastro-pubs, even a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants, all designed to the nines and catering the latest fads and grandest tastes. I've eaten in some of them, including the fancy-starred ones, but I don't think the satisfaction from that simple meal eaten in shambolic circumstances could ever be replicated again.