Whether you're eating out with the young or the old, want to go out but not 'out out' for dinner, or just are in need of a more affordable dining option, opting for an early bird is the answer, but not all are created equal. Despite their many confusing forms (pre-theatre, neighbourhood, set), some offer genuine value, offering benefits to both the diner and the restaurant trying to fill early tables, while some are just a bit rubbish, with separate menus using cheaper ingredients, thereby saving you nothing, and who's got time for that. We've scrutinised a LOT of them and these are our top picks for early dining inspiration.
1) Clanbrassil House
The early bird in Clanbrassil House is pretty casual with the option to sit at their high stool tables or hang out in the back of the restaurant where all the cool kids sit next to the kitchen. 3 courses will set you back just €28, but you may spend more than you planned on their "give me one of everything" wine list.
2) Kinara Kitchen & Kajal
Kinara Kitchen in Ranelagh and Clontarf, who specialise in Pakistani food, serve their early bird from Monday to Thursdays from 4pm to 8pm, with two courses coming in at a very reasonable €23.50. Their sister restaurant, Kajjal in Malahide, serves a very similar menu for the same price - but it must be noted that going here and not trying a traditional Pakistani biryani is something we wouldn't undertake lightly.
3) The Pig's Ear
The Pig’s Ear on Nassau Street is great if you’re looking for simple, straightforward 'Irish' food with none of your airs, graces or white tablecloths. Dishes include starters like Earl Grey cured salmon with cucumber, horseradish and dill, and mains like line-caught cod with courgettes, borlotti beans, brown shrimp, pine nuts & sauce Maltaise (Hollandaise with blood orange added - swoon), and most of the dishes are also on the á la carte so you can be sure you're getting a bonefide bargain. See their early bird here.
4) One Pico
One Pico, around the corner from their partner Michelin-ed restaurant The Greenhouse, is one of the city's top picks for a more refined early bird. A bit more on the pricey side (while nowhere near as pricey as full menu price), three courses will set you back around €38 a head (and with one of the dishes on the current menu coming in at €32 on the á la carte - you're basically saving money). See their latest pre-theatre here.
We go on about Etto a lot (us and everyone else), and for good reason - you’ll always have a great meal here. This applies no less to their pre-theatre menu, with two courses for €28 or three for €32, featuring loads of the all time Etto classics like mussels with nduja and those red wine prunes with vanilla mascarpone. It's served from 17:30 to 18:30 Monday to Thursday and you can see a sample menu here.
6) Crow Street
One of the more affordable and relaxed places for an early bird with two courses for €19.95, three for €24.95 (leaving you with more opportunity to burn your money on drinks in Temple Bar). Crow Street also serve the menu for much longer, from 17:00 all night from Sunday to Thursday, and finishing at 18:30 on Friday and Saturday. Dishes include buffalo mozzarella with roast beetroot, orange and pistachio pesto, and a buttermilk chicken burger with chipotle aioli, lettuce, pickles & hand cut chips. See the current menu here.
Pickle’s early bird is a bit more suitable for let’s say, a more sensitive Irish palette, and comes in at only €24 for two courses. Even if the menu sounds a bit more basic than the á la carte, you know that the flavours will be stand out. See their current early bird here.
8) Old Street
Old Street in Malahide serves their neighbourhood menu all evening Tuesdays to Thursdays, and until 18:30 on Friday and Saturday, and their casual menu has a great supper vibe to it, with dishes like asaparagus and fig, and tagliatelle a la arrabbiata with bocconcini cheese. See their current neighbourhood menu here.
Locks run their 'market menu' (2 courses for €25, three for €30) until 18:30 every evening, with the same menu available at a marginally higher price post 18:45 on Tuesdays and Wednesday. Another rock solid option for a great dinner, and definitely a place for the aforementioned going ‘out’ but not ‘out out’.
10) Mr Fox
Trusty Mr Fox is a handy north side spot to keep in mind when on that side of the Liffey. It consistently offers a high standard of contemporary Irish food, and their pre-theatre menu at €24.95 for two courses or €28.95 for three, featuring dishes like tuna, ponzu, navet, avocado, charred watermelon & tobiko, and roast barley risotto with pickled mushrooms & smoked ricotta is one of your best bets before an evening at the Abbey Theatre - but you totally don't need culture as an excuse to take advantage.
11) Chapter One
Experience Michelin dining at a more pocket friendly price with two options; either go for their regular pre-theatre for €44, or else up a notch to their premium pre-theatre menu for €57. Definitely one for a special occasion when the full blowout dinner isn’t quite in your average Wednesday budget. See both menus here.
A Dublin staple off Dame Street, offering French bistro style food, Pichet has held firm as a reputable dining option throughout the years, maintaining its popularity and high standards. Their pre-theatre menu runs from 17:00 - 18:15, offering two courses for €23.50 or three for €30.
Another casual neighbourhood spot that blends simple dishes with high-standards. There’s been a bit of a buzz around Riba lately, and with their ‘treat yourself Mondays’ offering three courses and a glass of prosecco for €27, and their regular early-bird at three courses for €26, there’s plenty of reasons to get here early.
14) Osteria Lucio
Italian-style food in Grand Canal Dock from Chapter One's Ross Lewis and his Italian chef friend Luciano Tona. Their pre-theatre offers a simple but enticing mix of traditional Italian food like meatballs alla puttanesca, and more Irish elements like marinated Irish beetroot with goat cheese and black olive tuile, Osteria Lucio's location is perfect for early evening people watching or before heading to a show at the Bord Gais theatre, and the pre-theatre menu is available from 17:00 to 18:45 with three courses for €32. Read our Osteria Lucio once over here.
15) The Old Spot
Idyllically placed in the heart of D4, the Old Spot gives a no-frills, just good cooking approach that's guaranteed to warm your cold, winter-dreading heart. Their neighbourhood menu is only available from Monday to Friday, which makes it a great midweek spot that ticks all the boxes. Drop in between 17:00 and 18:30 and get three courses for €29.
16) The Legal Eagle
The Legal Eagle offers a fun menu that plays a huge part in keeping the quality gastropub flame alive and well in Dublin. Their neighbourhood menu is available all day Sunday to Thursday, and from 12:00 to 19:00 on Friday and Saturday. Couple that with three courses for €35, including potted wild Wicklow rabbit & mushrooms on toast, and Irish OlivePork with nduja potato croquette, and you’ve got a comfortable spot in the heart of Dublin, with more than enough time to decide what you want to eat.
Did we miss your favourite place for an early bird? Let us know by emailing email@example.com.