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Katy McGuinness's guide to the best early-bird menus in Ireland

Dine like a lord or lady for less than the usual price with Katy McGuinness's guide to the best early-bird and value menus from some of the top chefs around the country

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Lucky Tortoise, Aungier Street, Dublin 2. luckytortoise.ie

Lucky Tortoise, Aungier Street, Dublin 2. luckytortoise.ie

Lucky Tortoise, Aungier Street, Dublin 2. luckytortoise.ie

1/ 1826

Main Street, Adare, Co Limerick

1826adare.ie

You'll recognise chef Wade Murphy from his regular television appearances, and his 1826 restaurant in Adare is much loved for its late Sunday lunch. His 'value menu' served until 7pm each day is a big draw, too, with two courses for €31 and three for just a fiver more. You might order cured and marinated Irish organic salmon followed by treacle-braised beef short-rib and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. After which you may not be fit for anything much.

2/ 3 Leaves

Blackrock Market, Blackrock, Co Dublin

3leaves.ie

Santosh and Milie Thomas's modest little restaurant in Blackrock Market - where one of the neighbours is the Michelin-starred Liath - serves some of the best Indian food in the country, with an offering that caters for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores. The three-course set dinner served from Thursday to Saturday costs €32.95. The menu changes often but might include dishes such as Khasta Aaloo Chaat (crisp potato topped with spiced chickpeas, dressed with Santosh's signature sauces), Rara Gosht (slow-cooked lamb marinated in tomato paste, yogurt and aromatic spices) and Carrot Halwa Trifle, infused with green cardamom. There's a €5 per bottle charge for wine corkage (€2 for beer). The good independent wine shop, Blackrock Cellar, is a two-minute walk away, close to the Dart station.

3/ 777

Castle House, South Great George's Street,

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Grano, Norseman Court, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. grano.ie

Grano, Norseman Court, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. grano.ie

Grano, Norseman Court, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. grano.ie

Dublin 2

777.ie

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777 is noisy and lots of fun, and on Sunday all dishes cost €7.77, which leaves plenty of spending money for tequila. Other special offers include Margarita Monday (beloved of people who don't work on Tuesday), when two margaritas cost €14, and Taco Tuesday, when two taco dishes cost €6 - a few might cure any lingering hangover from Margarita Monday.

4/ Aisha's Cafe and Bistro

Wellington Quay, Drogheda

facebook.com/Aishas-Cafe-Bistro

"Delicious food", "great for a gang" and "so friendly" were some of the endorsements that came in from regulars when we asked what they liked about Aisha's. The early-bird is priced at €22.95 and there's no charge for corkage; the Lebanese mixed-meat platter is one of the most popular dishes but there are plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians, too.

5/ Assassination Custard

Kevin Street, Dublin 8

facebook.com/assassinationcustard

There's no name outside Ken and Gwen's lovely little lunch spot on Kevin Street, just opposite the Garda Station, so just watch out for the little hanging sign of a striped bowl full of custard - or the queue of people who know their food that gathers outside during lunchtime. The menu changes every day and the offering of small plates features vegetables from McNally's Family Farm in north Co Dublin and all manner of interesting meat and fish dishes, many of them employing lesser-used cuts and offal and influenced by the cuisine of Italy and Spain. Nothing costs more than a tenner or thereabouts and if there are a few of you, you can order the whole menu to share without breaking the bank. Be warned though: Assassination Custard only has a few seats and doesn't take bookings.

6/ Cafe Paradiso

Lancaster Quay, Cork

facebook.com/paradisocork

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Pickle, Camden Street, Dublin 2. picklerestaurant.com

Pickle, Camden Street, Dublin 2. picklerestaurant.com

Pickle, Camden Street, Dublin 2. picklerestaurant.com

The pre-theatre menu at Cafe Paradiso is priced at €30 for three courses and is, of course, an entirely vegetarian offering, with plenty of choice for vegans. One recent menu offered dishes such as lime-grilled haloumi with beluga lentils, burnt aubergine puree, pistachio dukkah and orange and sultana pickles, followed perhaps by chilli-glazed pan-fried tofu with choi, oyster mushrooms, tamarind coconut broth, rice noodles and aduki wonton, with blackcurrant mascarpone ice cream and cantucci biscotti to finish, all of which sounds pretty damn delightful.

7/ Campagne

Gas House Lane, Kilkenny

campagne.ie

At Garrett Byrne's classy Michelin-starred Campagne - located a handy few minutes' walk from the train station - you can have a three-course lunch or early bird for an astonishing €38. Dishes might include a warm Parmesan and bacon mousse with porcini sauce, watercress and hazelnuts, followed by roast wood pigeon with braised white cabbage, crushed turnip and beetroot puree, with rhubarb and frangipane tart and rhubarb ice cream to finish. Byrne was head chef at Chapter One in Dublin for many years; his French-influenced cooking is refined and sophisticated.

8/ Clanbrassil House

Clanbrassil Street Upper, Dublin 8

clanbrassilhouse.com

Grainne O'Keeffe holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand for her gutsy, flavour-forward food at Clanbrassil House and her cooking continues to go from strength to strength. The three-course set menu served from 5-6pm from Monday to Friday is priced at €28. And although €79 for a main course for two may not sound like a bargain, the whiskey-aged côte de boeuf from butcher Rick Higgins from the main menu is an experience that every meat-lover should try once - it comes with two sides so there's no danger of going hungry.

9/ Courthouse Restaurant

Monaghan Street, Carrickmacross,

Co Monaghan

courthouserestaurant.ie

One local describes Monaghan as the "forgotten county" in the realm of food and restaurants, but The Courthouse is playing a blinder when it comes to putting Carrickmacross on the food map of Ireland, and holds a prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmand for its efforts. The early-bird menu at is priced at €29 for three courses, with all the food including sauces stocks, desserts and ice cream made in-house. Delicious-sounding tapas, all priced under €10, are also available. Lucky locals.

10/ Etto

Merrion Row, Dublin 2

etto.ie

Etto is where chefs like to eat on their days off, and with deals such as the two/three-course lunch for €26/30 (a similar pre-theatre is €28/32) it's no wonder. You might start with veal tartare, tonnato, smoked potato cracker and pickled mustard, move on to crispy duck leg, anchoiade, lentils, endive and lindi pepper and finish with - what else? - the red wine prunes and vanilla mascarpone. If time is tight, the worker's lunch - perhaps orecchiette with nduja, cherry tomato and aged Parmesan - is a steal at €16. Sister restaurant Uno Mas on Aungier Street, unomas.ie, offers lunch for €24/28.

11/ Everetts

High Street, Waterford

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Courthouse Restaurant, Monaghan Street, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. 
courthouserestaurant.ie

Courthouse Restaurant, Monaghan Street, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. courthouserestaurant.ie

Courthouse Restaurant, Monaghan Street, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. courthouserestaurant.ie

everetts.ie

The pre-theatre menu at Everetts is priced at €24 for two courses and €28 for three, and with chef-patron Peter Everett offering dishes such as fresh Meadowfield Farm goat's cheese with pickled pear and caramelised pecans, slow-cooked shoulder of Comeragh Mountain Lamb with pearl barley, kale and lamb jus, and blood orange baba, it's not hard to figure out why it's so popular. The same deal is on offer at lunch on Friday and Saturday, which sounds very civilised indeed.

12/ Global Village

Upper Main Street, Dingle, Co Kerry

globalvillagedingle.com

Dingle can be a pricy place to eat out, but the early bird menu at Martin Bealin and Nuala Cassidy's wonderful Global Village, which opens up again for 2020 next month, is keenly priced at €28/30 for two/three courses. Ox tongue and cheek terrine with white turnip remoulade and onion gel to start perhaps, followed by locally landed mackerel fillets and garlic crab claws with mangetouts, duck fat roast potatoes and lobster cream, and profiteroles filled with hazelnut praline cream, honeycomb, aerated white chocolate, caramelised white chocolate ice cream and cocoa tuille to finish. Phew.

13/ Grano

Norseman Court, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7

grano.ie

Is there a person on earth who has visited Grano and not been smitten by its charm? We have never met one, certainly. This beguiling spot serves up some of the best pasta in Dublin, and if you get your timing right and book in between 5 and 7pm, Tuesday to Thursday, or 12-7pm on Sundays, you can avail of the bargain early-bird deal, priced at €19 for two courses and €24 for three. For that you might get cured black pig lardo on sourdough, authentic tagliatelle Bolognese (the recipe comes from a sfoglina, a pasta-making matriarch, from Bologna) and tiramisu. At lunchtime, prices are even lower - a starter and main course come in at just €12. Can we move to Stoneybatter, please?

14/ Hooked

Henry Street, Galway

hookedonhenryst.com

Jess Murphy of Kai says the seafood-focused menu at Hooked in Galway's West End offers some of the best value in Galway, with all the fish coming from Ali's Fish Market down the street. Spicy shrimp tacos, Killary mussels and monkfish cheeks are some of the dishes that keep the punters happy, with reasonable wine prices contributing to a general sense of bonhomie.

15/ Keshk

Mespil Road, Dublin 4

keshk.ie

The Mediterranean menu at Keshk is smattered with the influences of Greece, Turkey and Egypt and has earned this friendly restaurant legions of fans. It's great for a gang, with sharing mezze platters to start and a focus on charcoal-grilled meat and chicken for main courses. The BYO policy keeps costs down, especially as there is no corkage charge, and, conveniently, the restaurant is just around the corner from the excellent Baggot Street Wines, which as one regular points out, is handy if you happen to run out half way through dinner. In the evening, for groups of 6 or more, it's €31.95 for two courses, and an extra €1.50 per head if you want to bring your own cake.

16/ The Lemon Tree

The Courtyard Shopping Centre, Lower Main Street, Letterkenny, Co Donegal

thelemontreerestaurant.com

Everyone in Donegal loves the family-owned Lemon Tree, and with an early-bird offering priced at €23 for a starter and main course (€28 if you add in a glass of wine or craft beer), why would they not? Organic mussels with local cider and leeks followed by a bacon chop with carrots, duck egg, apple and champ mash are just some of the permutations that keep luring the locals.

17/ Lucky Tortoise

Aungier Street, Dublin 2

luckytortoise.ie

Some of us are old enough to remember when Lucky Tortoise was a hit-and-miss pop-up on Sunday afternoons in The Hill pub in Ranelagh (ah, those were the days) and a stall in EatYard. It's a much slicker operation these days and you'll need to book ahead, but it's still a great place for a gang with an 'all in' deal priced at €20 with vegetarian and vegan versions available. Dishes include Char Siu Bu, Chicken Shitake & Chive Pillow, Okonomiyaki, Pancetta Potsticker, Pandan Jasmine Rice, Peanut Chilli Slaw, Pork & Red Cabbage Siu Mai and Scallion Pancakes. Wines on tap - red, white and orange - won't break the bank.

18/ Michael's

Deerpark Road, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin

michaels.ie

Gaz Smith is known for his generosity, so there's no stinting when it comes to portion sizes on the early-bird menu at Michael's, priced at €23.95 for two courses and €27.95 for three. The duck and wild mushroom arancini are the size of tennis balls, and the seafood linguine is lavish. On Tuesdays, there's a two-course menu for €22. No wonder the place is always hopping, despite the suburban location.

19/ Nine Arches

Ballymahon, Co Longford

facebook.com/NineArchesBallymahon

Daniel Skukalek is a talented chef who is producing some interesting food in Ballymahon, the handsome Longford town on the Royal Canal. The early-bird menu is priced at €29 for two courses and €34 for three - not as cheap as some places, granted, but pricing that's keen given the quality of the ingredients and the fact that he has chosen not to follow the path of least resistance and churn out the burgers and wings, but rather to offer something more interesting, including some very good hand-made filled pastas.

20/ Old Spot

Bath Avenue, Dublin 4

theoldspot.ie

We arrived for dinner at the Old Spot a few months ago on a Wednesday night to find the place heaving with families and groups of friends tucking into plates of hearty fare. The neighbourhood menu - two/three courses for €24/29 - includes dishes such as pressed corned beef, with potato & horseradish, sauce gribiche and sourdough toast, the signature Texel lamb shepherd's pie and vanilla panna cotta with caramelised plums. No wonder no one in D4 ever cooks at home.

21/ One Pico

Schoolhouse Lane, Dublin 2

onepico.com

Many think that Ciaran McGill deserves a Michelin star for his cooking at One Pico, but for the time being the tyre company is backward in coming forward and so customers with a liking for fine dining have the opportunity to eat Michelin-standard food without Michelin-level prices. The two-course lunch is priced at €29, with three courses costing €36. You might be offered Alsace bacon consommé with 36-month Parmesan ravioli, followed by roast chicken crown, with celeriac, chanterelles, Andarl Farm pudding and buttermilk thigh, and salted caramel tartlet, sherry raisins and Pedro Ximenez ice cream for pudding. One regular always adds €4.95 to the bill - hang the expense! - with a side of green beans, vadouvan mayonnaise and toasted cashews.

22/ Pickle

Camden Street, Dublin 2

picklerestaurant.com

Sunil Ghai's Pickle restaurant, which celebrates its fourth birthday next month, consistently produces some of the best Indian food in the country. The value menu served early evening and on Sunday afternoons is priced at €28 for two courses and includes dishes such as Amritsari Jhinga - crispy fried prawns dusted with nigella seeds, fennel and Kashmiri chilli with cucumber and dill yoghurt, and Awadhi Lamb Biryani - perfumed basmati rice with braised lamb, yoghurt, fried onions, mint and saffron presented in a sealed pot with biryani sauce.

23/ Rotana

Richmond Street, Dublin 2

rotanacafe.ie

If you eat two courses at Rotana (the early bird runs from 2-6.30pm and costs €18.90, later in the evening it increases to €21.90), you won't be charged corkage on the wine that you bring with you. The menu is Lebanese and includes all manner of mezze, dips, falafel and manakeesh, but the charcoal grill for two with a side of hummus is what draws one regular customer back time after time.

24/ Shouk

40 Drumcondra Road Lr, Drumcondra

instagram.com/shouk_dublin

Is there a person in Dublin who doesn't love Shouk and its bright, fresh and exuberant food bursting with flavour and colour and its wonderful flatbreads? The menu has evolved from the simple Israeli offering that was in place when it first opened to a more sophisticated menu that takes in a wider geographical area, but it's still firmly rooted in the Middle East and the prices remain modest. The outdoor seating area has increased the seating capacity and Shouk now has a wine list, with house wines starting at a user-friendly €23. A Middle East Feast costs €25 per person for groups of six and more; corkage is €7 for wine and €2 for beer.

25/ Sprezzatura

Grantham Street, Dublin 8

sprezzatura.ie

Thom Lawson was the founder of Lucky Tortoise and has since moved on to Sprezzatura, so it's safe to say that the young restaurateur's schtick is cheap and cheerful crowd-pleasing fare served with a side order of panache. Sprezzatura is clearly modelled on London's Padella - not a problem - and offers a few starters and pasta mains which change weekly but are priced around the €10 mark. The cacio e pepe is impeccable. Don't go expecting much in the way of dessert - there's just one currently, popcorn panna cotta - nor in the hope of lingering late into the night over wine and coffee; Sprezzatura manages to keep its prices down by turning tables with a haste that some might consider unseemly.

26/ Spitalfields

25 The Coombe, Dublin 8

spitalfields.ie

Stephen McAllister's Spitalfields (a sister to the Pig's Ear on Nassau Street) is located in a pub in the heart of Dublin's Liberties and offers a set menu (2/3 course, €19.50/22.50) served between 12 and 2pm and 5 and 6pm which changes every day. Recent options have included tea-smoked salmon with cucumber and horseradish, confit duck with butterbeans and cider onions, and milk ice-cream with salted caramel and honeycomb. If you drop in and don't fancy what's on offer, you can hit the a la carte or just have a pint.

27/ Square Restaurant

Magnet Road, Dundalk, Co Louth

squarerestaurant.ie

Fresh local and seasonal ingredients underpin the offering at the Square Restaurant in Dundalk, where the €27 early-bird menu includes buttermilk fried chicken with green curry mayonnaise, roast cauliflower with chickpeas, romesco sauce and aioli, and warm hazelnut cake with blood orange and mascarpone. Chef Conor Halpenny from Ardee is a former winner of the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year competition and has worked with luminaries of the Irish food scene including Michelin-star chefs Ross Lewis and Robbie Krawczyk.

28/ Vintage Kitchen

Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2

thevintagekitchen.ie

Sean Drugan's Vintage Kitchen is a Dublin institution, the scene of more birthday and going-away dinners than any other restaurant in the city. Dinner costs €35 for two courses and €41 for three, the food won't scare the horses (don't expect anything too fancy), comes in big portions and is of consistently good quality. There's vinyl on the stereo and arts and crafts to buy, should the mood take you or you've forgotten to bring a gift and you need to pick one up sharpish. Corkage is €5 per bottle and there's a short and modestly priced wine list if you don't get it together to bring your own.

29/ Volpe Nera

Newtown Park, Blackrock, Co Dublin

volpenera.ie

Barry Sun Jian is the award-winning chef who departed everyone's favourite city centre restaurant, Etto, last year to set up his own place in the 'burbs. The Etto-esque menu is going down a treat with the locals, particularly when they can avail of early bird prices of €27/30 for 2/3 courses and walk home afterwards. Options include salt-baked celeriac, with truffle, stracciatella and hazelnuts followed by slow-cooked short ribs, with pickled walnuts and polenta and warm chocolate mousse with buttermilk ice cream.

30/ Wallace's Asti

Russell Street, Drumcondra, Dublin 1

wallacewinebars.ie

Locals return time after time to this low-key restaurant beside Croke Park, where the early-bird deal offers two courses of Sardinian food and a glass of wine for €20. "The wine is so nice it's difficult not to order more," says one regular.

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Hooked, Henry Street, Galway. hookedonhenryst.com

Hooked, Henry Street, Galway. hookedonhenryst.com

Hooked, Henry Street, Galway. hookedonhenryst.com

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