Ah yet another ATF anomaly - our glad rags are on, we're in the mood to celebrate (do we even need an excuse anymore?) and our never-ending urge to eat out is palpable, BUT inflation's going up faster than mms of rainfall in June, and we're still trying to find that money tree in the garden centre.
We're spoilt for choice at either end of the spend-spectrum in Dublin, from cheap eats to spendy splurges (getting spendier by the week), but the middle ground sometimes feels like a vast, lonely no man's land awash with stale restaurants, average service, mediocre wine lists and, let's face it, boring food. We've been busy researching the best restaurants where there is value to be had whilst still feeling like you're dining high on the hog. From newcomers to mainstays, here are some of the best places worthy of a special occasion that won't give you heart palpitations when the bill lands...
Early Birds & Set Menus
Needless to say, the rarely spotted (these days) early-bird/pre-theatre menu seems like an obvious solution to our predicament, but there are some brilliant value set menus around town too, for those evenings when you don't want to be constrained by the limits of time.
Margadh RHA, Ely Place
There's a definite sense of quiet confidence about Margadh RHA, the newish city centre wine bar from the same team as Mamó, with their recently expanded kitchen. The tasting menu here is €38 per person for 8 plates (you can add cheese as an extra) which change seasonally, and at the moment includes things like a market cheese and onion croquette with tarragon aioli; fresh burrata, asparagus, garden peas, hazelnuts and summer truffles; and a fennel sausage ragu with tagliolini and pecorino. With lots of wine choices under €35 we can see this becoming a go-to celebration spot in the city centre. Read our once over here.
Charlotte Quay, Grand Canal
Is there any better view on a summer's evening than the one from Charlotte Quay overlooking Grand Canal Dock? Yes, the view of your healthy bank statement after a pre-theatre menu in Charlotte Quay overlooking Grand Canal Dock. Treat yourself to two courses for €32 or three courses for €38 between 17:00 - 19:00, Tuesday - Saturday, and expect locally sourced, fresh Irish produce, and for every stool in their bar to be filled before sundown.
777, George's Street
The mere mention of those two little words 'Margarita Mondays' conjures up debaucherous images of late night dancing and candle wax shape-shifting over the course of too many cocktails in the alluring cave that is 777. Go there on a Sunday and you may not have the same intensity of merrymaking as on a Monday, but you will have a budget friendly feast with selected dishes and cocktails costing, you guessed it... €7.77.
Lucky Tortoise, Temple Bar
Lucky Tortoise opened the doors of their second location just over a month ago in Temple Bar, serving family-style modern Dim Sum. Their 'All In' Menu will set you back just €28, with vegan and vegetarian options available too. We won't be very slow or steady getting ourselves there to taste our way through it.
One Pico, Molesworth Street
Sometimes there's just nothing better than a swanky lunch to mark a special occasion, especially one that doesn't bankrupt you. One Pico's lunch menu offers two courses, canapes & bread for €55, or throw caution to the wind with a third course for another €10. With glasses of wine starting at €10.75 you can get in and out for a very civilised, well-executed, first-rate lunch for approximately €70 per person. Not cheap, but considerably cheaper than dinner.
By now you probably know we have intense feelings about a good food menu accompanied by a mediocre (at best) wine list. Here are a handful of our favourites offering quality wine at the heart of what they do, that won't have your chin grazing the floor when your bank statement comes through.
Piglet, Cow's Lane
Piglet straddles the line between 'wine focused' and 'set menu', offering a three course menu for €39 that won't have you breaking your piglet bank. You're guaranteed both French flair and classic fare here. Perhaps not to everyone's taste, we are somewhat obsessed with the confit duck gizzards, but there are plenty of reliable classics to choose from as well, like the Piglet ragu, oven baked scallops or steamed mussels with smokey bacon. The mammoth wine list can be intimidating upon first glance but is very user friendly, and staff are adept at finding exactly what you want to drink, whatever your budget.
Fish Shop, Benburb Street
Cast your wine net wisely in Fish Shop and you won't be shell shocked by the bill at the end. With their white-washed brick walls, high stools at the bar and some of the friendliest service in town, this is a spot we're all too willing to spend our hard earned cash in whiling away a special occasion, perusing the wine list and lusting after other people's plates. We usually play it one of two ways: a couple of small bites, like the anchovy and Russian salad on toast (€5.50) and the cockles with chorizo and sherry (€10.50) followed by the fish burger (€15.95), or dive straight in with fish and chips (€15.95) depending on our appetite and how hard our wine choice is going to hit that bill. There are always a couple of very decent bottles just under the €40 mark so your average bill for two here can range from €70 - €100.
Winedown, Montague Street
Tucked away on Montague Street, Winedown is the self-professed older, more sophisticated sister to Meltdown, serving dishes like chermoula-marinated half chicken with mango salsa (€17.50), and a wine menu with choices for every palate, whether natural or classic, and at a fair range of prices. You can spend around €85 for two small plates, two large plates and a bottle of house wine, which sounds like pretty good value to us.
Amy Austin, Drury Street
The menu at Amy Austin reads like a romantic date night dream with dishes like roast bone marrow (€12), hard hay crust baked potato (€9), and torched fennel (€11) flirting with us at very reasonable prices. The menu is concise but varied and you could easily have five plates shared between two with a bottle of wine for around €95. For groups of 6+ they also do a €40pp 7-plate tasting menu, meaning minimal decision making, maximum food tasting.
Perhaps it's the slightly slower pace of suburban surrounds, the neighbourhood vibe that can't be replicated in restaurants in town, *sings the theme tune to Cheers*, or maybe its just the good old fashioned value-for-money that has enticed us to these suburban spots, saving us rambling the streets in search of a suitable celebration restaurant that won't leave us in the red.
It's no secret that we're massive fans of Grano and will find any excuse to book here, all in the name of our lifelong pursuit of cheese and carbohydrates (and cheesy carbohydrates). We can hear those pillows of fresh silky pasta calling us now... A nibble, starter, pasta and dessert for two with a bottle of house wine will set you back about €110 and you'll feel like you've spent the evening in Southern Italy without having to step foot near any dreaded airport queues.
Little Forest, Blackrock
We often find ourselves in Blackrock, post Seapoint swim, the odd bit of seaweed in our hair, craving a restorative meal (read carbs) that is a notch or seven above Papa John's, but a price tag or seven below Michelin star. Enter, Forest Avenue's suburban sister restaurant, Little Forest. We're not saying you can turn up here in your soggy togs but you could certainly spend a post-swim evening here feeling smug about your pizza/life balance. Expect to spend anywhere between €30 for two pizzas to €80 for a snack, an antipasti, pizzas and a cocktail each. Or, depending on the tide and your swim of course, you could try their lunch menu for €39 a head.
King Sitric, Howth
King Sitric is another seaside spot smashing out quality seafood at reasonable prices. With something on the menu to suit all budgets from seafood chowder (€9) and fish burgers (€12), to Dublin Bay prawns in garlic butter (€26) and whole lobster with chips (circa €40). Keep the wine spend low with a bottle of Hugel Pinot Blanc (€30) that they import directly from Alsace, and have a feast fit for a King (Sitric). There's also a lovely outdoor seating area and it's great for kids, with mini mains €8 and plenty of colouring equipment.
A foolproof way of keeping your spend down is by bringing your own booze, and there are a host of good restaurants who will allow you to do it at a fair price.
M&L Szechuan Chinese, Cathedral Street
M&L is our go-to spot for Sichuan food and a great shout for a large group celebration with a private room that can seat 10-12 people, but even with a large group the menu is so big it's impossible to try everything. We usually order from the Chef's Specialty section on the menu and both the stir fried French beans (€11.80) and the deep fried sweetcorn with egg yolk (€11.80) always make their way onto our bill. Corkage is €6.50 per bottle of wine and if you allow €50 per person you'll be leaving very full, probably with leftovers.
Lee's Charming Noodles, Parnell Street
Although they don't advertise it, Lee's Charming Noodles will allow you to bring your own if you ask them charmingly. They charge €10 corkage per bottle of wine and we've been to two birthday celebrations here recently, spent less than €50 both times and had a really fun and tasty meal. As spice lovers, the Szechuan Spicy Lamb Noodles with their famous hand-pulled noodle is our first port of call, but there's plenty to choose from on the menu for all tolerance levels. Book ahead for any large groups.
Full Moon Thai, Parliament Street
Serving “authentic Thai street food and classic Thai favourites” in the heart of the city centre, we went to Full Moon Thai last August and three of us left having had plenty of food with leftovers to take home, and one beer each for €99 - read our once over here. They launched their new wine list in December, but if you do fancy bringing your own wine there' a €10 charge per bottle of wine (€15 for sparkling).
Dada, South William Street
Dada is an old favourite of ours. Serving traditional Moroccan cuisine on South William Street with the option to BYO for just €4 per bottle of wine (€1.50 per beer and €7 for Champagne), and an early bird menu that's three courses for €27.95. Their lamb tagine is €22.95 and with a side of cous cous for €3.95 you're looking at serious bang for your buck whether you choose to go early-bird or not.
Where are your favourite restaurants offering great value for money in Dublin? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org