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Cheap eats: The early bird captures the best deal

Some might seem unusually early but they’re worth beating the crowd for to get the best value

Restaurant owners bemoan the current environment for their business in Dublin. Luna, and Jo’Burger to are just two of the recent closures as restaurateurs battle for customers, margins and staff in a ferociously competitive environment. But while they are struggling for business, diners may well have their own list of complaints.

Yes, choice may never have been so good, but the concept of value may well have slipped down the pecking order. In recent weeks, I have found myself paying €30 for a meal in a city centre tapas bar that saw us sharing a scoop of ice-cream for dessert, while €70 was mysteriously added to our bill for unordered drinks.

Another time, my fellow diner was wrongly given a glass of wine that cost €33.50 (for a glass!) at a famed gastro pub; an error that was greeted with considerable disdain by the waitress when it was pointed out to her.

One solution might be to upgrade your eating habits while keeping your spending under control. Some of the best value to be had eating out this summer is in the State’s finer establishments – just as long as you get in and get out early.

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Early options

Opting for a finer dining experience means you will often get access to the same dishes that are on the main menu, but at a much keener price.

And while some restaurants want you well gone before the evening diners arrive – at Chapter One for example you have to be out by 7.30pm – others are more generous. At The Tannery in Waterford, you can get the early bird menu until 9.30pm most nights (although it finishes at 6.30pm on a Saturday).

In addition, you will often be supporting local, independent restaurants, rather than the chains that have begun to dominate in recent times.

Beware the extras however. You can expect to pay Champs-Élysées prices for coffee at One Pico (€5.50 for an espresso) while Glovers Alley charges €3 per person for water. And side-dishes can also add up on your bill.

You can also expect to pay an additional fee for more expensive meals. A steak at Pitchet attracts a €5 surcharge for example. But this isn't the case everywhere; you'll pay just €2.50 as an early bird diner for your tea/coffee in Chapter One, for example.

Dubbed pre-theatre, early bird, or in certain establishments, such as the Tannery, the “market menu”, here are some of the best deals available this summer at Ireland’s best restaurants.

Dublin

Glovers Alley

Availability: 6-7pm (Tues-Thurs)

Price: €35 for two courses/€45 for three

It's the latest incarnation of the dining room at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, which was once home to Conrad Gallagher's Peacock Alley, and latterly Kevin Thornton's Thornton's, which closed in 2016.

Now it’s the turn of Andy McFadden. He has revitalised the space in hues of plush pink. Early diners can feast on scallop ceviche, pork cheeks, or lamb shoulder – in essence, you’ll be offered abbreviated highlights of the a la carte menu at a lot more palatable prices.

And there's more: if you dine out this month in the restaurant, you will get a complimentary glass of Prosecco. In addition, you can park for free between 6pm and 11pm at the Fitzwilliam Hotel.

Pichet

Availability: 5-6.15pm Price: €17/one course; €23.50/two courses; €30/three courses pichet.ie Describing itself as a "classic take on a modern bistro", this French and Irish influenced restaurant has become a firm presence on the Dublin dining scene since opening in July 2009.

Early bird diners will get similar options to those arriving later, just with fewer choices. Typical starters include mussels in a chorizo velouté, and there is a roast potato gnocchi for a main – both of which are also on the dinner menu.

One Pico

Availability: 5.30-7pm (Mon-Fri); 5.30-6.30pm (Sat)

Price: €29.95/two courses

Molesworth Street may be increasingly unrecognisable as it undergoes a period of intense redevelopment, but one stalwart remains Eamonn O’Reilly’s One Pico.

While dining after 7pm during the week, or 6.30pm on a Saturday will significantly lighten your wallet, you can avail of terrific value on the restaurant’s pre-theatre menu.

Promising “French technique and Irish produce”, one of the highlights is the restaurant’s cheese trolley – although this will involve a €6 supplement.

Chapter One

Availability: 5pm-5.45pm; table must be vacated by 7.30pm

Price: €44/three courses or premium menu €57.50/three courses

A firm favourite of Dublin’s dining scene, Chapter One has long attracted those seeking a superlative dining experience or looking to celebrate a special occasion.

With one Michelin star, it is, however, expensive, and the Parnell Square restaurant will set you back €80 for a four-course meal, or €105 for a tasting menu.

However, getting in early – and admittedly it is particularly early as you must order by 5.45pm – allows you access to some of the same dishes, such as tartare of mackerel and mussel, or salt marsh duck, at much keener prices.

Craft

Availability: 5:30- 6:30pm (Wed-Sat)

Price: €25/two courses; €30/three courses

This Harold's Cross restaurant has become a new neighbourhood favourite since opening in 2016.

How apt then, that its early bird is called the “neighbourhood” menu, offering a selection of fresh options in season.

Roly’s Bistro

Availability: Tables must be vacated by 8.30pm

Price: €27.50/two courses; €30.50/three

Ballsbridge may have changed but this local establishment has long been a regular on the scene. Early bird diners can feast on Kerry lamb or Dublin Bay prawn bisque up until 8.30pm. For a cheaper option, you could also consider dining early at the downstairs cafe and bakery. For €19 you'll get two courses with options including chicken liver parfait for starter or duck leg for main, and you can dine up until 10pm.

Locks

Availability: Tuesday - Saturday from 5.30- 6.30pm

Price: €25/two courses; €30/three

A long-time fixture on the Grand Canal near Harold’s Cross, it offers particularly good value for early diners – especially if you go on a Tuesday or Wednesday when you can dine on three courses for €38 until 9.30 pm.

Dax

Availability: 6pm sitting Tues-Thurs, tables must be vacated by 8pm

Price: €32/two courses; €39/three

Its early bird may be restrictive – with sittings available only three days a week – but it just won best chef in Ireland and best Dublin restaurant in the national restaurant awards. And by dining early, you could save yourself about €20 per person.

Countrywide

Campagne, Kilkenny

Availability: 6-9pm (Wed, Thurs); 5.30-9pm (Fri); Saturday (5-6pm)

Price: €38/three courses

With a strong foodie reputation, Campagne still distinguishes itself in Kilkenny and the early bird menu offers fantastic value for a Michelin starred restaurant – even allowing you to dine on this menu until 9pm on a Friday night.

The Tannery, Dungarvan

Availability: 5.30-9pm (Tues-Thurs); 5.30pm-9.30 (Fri); 5.30-6.30pm (Sat); 6-7pm (Bank holiday Sundays and Sundays in July/August)

Price: €36.50/three courses

Now a Dungarvan establishment, The Tannery offers great flexibility for its set menu. While there, you could also take some lessons at its cookery school.

Canteen, Celbridge

Availability: 5.30 - 7.30pm (Tues-Thurs); 5.30 - 6pm (Fri)

Price: €28/two courses; €32/three courses

Recently chosen by this newspaper as one of the best restaurants in Ireland for a special occasion, Canteen grew out of a pilot project at the market in Blackrock and now promises modern European food from bright and airy premises in Celbridge.

Mustard Seed, Adare

Availability: 6.30-7.30pm (Sun-Fri)

Price: €49/four courses + tea/coffee

The fact that this Adare restaurant and guest house has been around since 1985 indicates how reliable it is. Get in early for a veritable feast and stay the night too.

The Fatted Calf, Athlone

Availability: All evening (Tues-Thurs); 5:30 - 6:30pm sharp (Fri and Sat)

Price: €28/two courses; €33/three courses

It may have moved to the centre of Athlone in 2015 from its former lakeside residence, but this midlands restaurant is still focused on the best of seasonal, local produce.

If you’ve ever wondered what a “pickled Irish silver darling” is, it might be time to visit this summer.

Sage, Midleton

Availability: 5.30-6.30pm (Tues-Sat); 4.30-8.30pm (Sun)

Price: €35/three courses

Eva Ivanova was recently named Ireland's best restaurant manager and you'll find much to admire at this Cork restaurant. And, if the sun is shining, you could consider dining outside at its sister restaurant, The Greenroom.

Everett’s, Waterford

Availability: 5.30-6.15pm (Tues-Sat)

Price: €24/two courses; €27.50/three courses

If a visit to the Déise is on the agenda this summer, why not make a stop at Everett’s? The restaurant was awarded best national newcomer at the Irish Restaurant Awards, and offers modern Irish cooking in atmospheric surroundings.

Paradiso, Cork

Availability: 5:30-6:30pm (Mon-Fri)

Price: €30/three courses

It may have dropped the “café” from its title, but this Cork vegetarian restaurant continues to thrive, having been short-listed for an award at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards earlier this year.

An Port Mór, Westport

Availability: 5-6pm

Price: €24/two courses

It emerged as one of TripAdvisor’s top 10 Irish restaurants back in 2017 (in second place) and if you can make it early enough, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh fish at a reduced price in one of Ireland’s tourism hotspots.

Cian’s on Bridge Street, Westport

Availability: 5-6.30pm

Price: €25.50/two courses; or €29.90/three courses

Awarded the best restaurant (Connaught) at the 2019 Irish Restaurant Awards, it offers good value for early dining holidaymakers in the region, and features some of the best of local Mayo produce such as Killary mussels and seafood chowder.