Have a cheap and cheerful Christmas

 

Taxis, restaurants, drinks, more drinks and presents for people you don't really like. Here's how to cut the cost of having fun this Christmas - and still have fun

Because it’s Christmas, you’re obliged to get together with different groups of friends or co-workers and blow half your budget on overpriced Christmas menus in hectic restaurants with harried staff who clearly want you to hurry up, eat and give them the table back. Ross McNally, manager of the popular Pygmalion restaurant in Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, which serves tapas and meals around the €10 mark and has an appealing Christmas menu, says many city centre restaurants are booked out from today.

Yum and The Greenhouse, both in Dublin, as well as Aniar in Galway, are among the restaurants that tweet when they have unsold seats or cancellations.

There are more tables outside the cities, especially in the suburbs, and staying local reduces taxi costs. Denizens of Cashel, Co Tipperary, are blessed with a secret treasure, Indian restaurant Rajput, while the people of Gorey have The Pigs Tale.

Most greater Dublin areas have at least a reasonable to excellent choice.

Reconsider the Christmas menu

It’s not always a good deal. Look out for places that ditch the early-bird or the special menu for the month of December, calling it Christmas and adding an extra 20 per cent. It can still be good value – just not as good as the rest of the year.

Who pays what?

It’s a good idea to agree on a budget in advance and stick to it. Even though it can be awkward and uncomfortable for the person who raises it, you should also agree how you’re splitting the bill. Is everyone just paying for what they had, or would you prefer to shell out for the extra bottle of wine and the four cocktails that your friend’s boyfriend had?

Pub grub

Skip the restaurant altogether and get cheaper grub in a pub. Take Eat at Massimo in Galway, for example. It’s from the owners of recent Michelin-star awarded Aniar. It uses the same suppliers and serves steaks, pizzas, salads, burgers, pies and pub grub that beats the pants off most Irish restaurants. On Sunday afternoon, there is a whole pig on a spit and succulent pork with duck-fat chips, organic salads and beetroot and yogurt dip for only €10.

The owners of Sober Lane in Cork city, with excellent pizzas and bar snacks at reasonable prices, have been getting it right for a long time. The pizza and pitcher of beer for €20 is a perennial favourite. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a local pub worth hitting. The Gravediggers in Glasnevin, north Dublin, is a popular tapas spot. L Mulligan Grocer in Stoneybatter also takes an imaginative and unpretentious attitude to pub grub, with steaks, chicken Kiev and pork belly all well worth the average €15 price tag.

BYO

Always cheaper than buying wine on the premises, but check out corkage costs in advance. The popular Middle Eastern restaurant Keshk, just off Dublin’s Leeson Street, is almost always busy and charges no corkage. Cork’s Cafe Gusto charges €5 corkage. Most hot dishes are under €10, while the small cicchetti (Venetian tapas) are €1 each. Many Indian restaurants are also BYO.

Long boozy lunch

Take the afternoon off work. Head for lunch and linger till 5pm with a few bottles of wine. This is a chance to treat yourself to some restaurants that would normally be beyond your budget. Check out the good-value lunch menus in the Michelin-starred Bon Appetit (Malahide), Aniar (Galway), or Locks Brasserie (Dublin).

Cheap and cheerful

The Bank House Restaurant in Portlaoise is really rather special. The cakes taste as good as they look and are eaten in the grand setting of a former home with a big open fireplace. Most of the menu consists of old reliables – steak, lasagne, poached salmon, fish and chips, chicken breast in mushroom sauce – done well at reasonable prices. Also good for tea, coffee and tapas.

In Cork’s Cafe Orso, space is currently at a premium due to the winning formula of small plates priced at about €6-€8. There is a large selection of coeliac-friendly options.

One of the most appealing Christmas menus around is at the Whitefriar Grill, a wonderful bistro that’s become the liveliest spot on Dublin’s Aungier Street.

It is still running the €21.50 three-course pre-theatre menu in the early part of the week, while Christmas group menus are €29.95 for two courses and €34.95 for three.

For a good chance of a walk-in, à la carte menu and good value, any of the Asian restaurants around Dublin’s Capel Street and Parnell Street are worth a visit, with Korean/Chinese restaurant Hilan and Japanese newcomer Musashi both standing out.

Nearby, Skinflint serves excellent grilled pizzas with unusual but not obscene toppings, with prices from €8-€13. It is very accommodating of walk-ins and it regularly gives away free meals on Twitter.

Drinking

The law of diminishing financial concern dictates that the more you drink, the less concerned you become about how much you’re spending . For those who wonder how on earth they managed to spend €120 on alcohol when they thought they only had five or six pints all night, (whisper it) the hip flask is making a return. Obviously it is poor form to be sipping from it on the streets in between pubs, and even poorer form to drink from it in the pub, so we would never ever condone it – but maybe at a party later that night?

Stay out of rounds. It’s okay. Tradition isn’t inflexible: it evolves and changes. And the rounds system is an outdated lottery.

Don’t drink

This also means you can drive.

Getting there

Transport is a particular problem in rural Ireland over Christmas, but a number of pubs have invested in seven-seater vehicles to get customers home safely. Gieltys in Achill, Co Mayo, Rocky’s Bar in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, The Cat’s Bar in Cappoquin, Co Waterford and the Glencar Inn in Letterkenny, Co Donegal are among the many pubs running such a service, many of which are free.

Christmas entertainment

There are many great gigs by wonderful bands that deserve support over Christmas, some of which will cost just €10-€15 for an evening’s music – but there are also plenty of free gigs. Dublin venues Sweeney’s and The Workman’s Club, Crane Lane Theatre and O’Riordans in Cork, and the Locke Bar in Limerick, all host free gigs. De Barra’s in Clonakilty, Co Cork, is one of the best little live venues in Ireland. In Donegal, the Frankie Kennedy Winter School in Gweedore will have sessions day and night. Many established venues such as Whelan’s on Wexford Street, Dublin, are free in before 10pm.

Presents

You have to buy presents for close family – but your friends? Work colleagues? Your extended family? The Secret Santa/Kris Kindle is a laudable tradition but here’s a better one: buy the worst gift you can possibly imagine or fob off something you never wanted on them. The Bad Santa game (also known as S**t Santa), developed and perfected by Jenny Headen and her family, is an energetic, subversive and cheap piece of festive mischief.

“Set a price limit, usually around €5-10,” Headen explains. “Presents are put in the centre of the group. Names are picked from a hat and people take turns to open a present. Each person has the option of taking someone else’s opened present or picking a wrapped one from the pile. The aim is not to take it seriously – it’s vital that most of the presents are really crap because it’s about seeing who ends up with the least worst present. There is a still-unopened tyre repair kit that has been doing the rounds for nearly a decade: it has even been to Australia before being sent back to Ireland.

“The game is a load of craic, a lot of bluffing and double-bluffing as people try to make you think they love their present so you’ll want to take it from them.”

The social crawl

Pub crawls are miserable affairs: standing around, rushing through drinks in an atmosphere of enforced merriment, without any hope of seats. Skip it. A cheaper alternative is the social crawl. If you and your friends all live in walking distance of one another, have a drink or two in each other’s houses instead. The social crawl works better with larger groups for a party atmosphere and also works well with neighbours. No taxis are required, no one person has to do all the hosting, you are guaranteed a seat and there’s plenty of room for each person to put their own twist on it.

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