Pre-theatre, early bird, pre-fixe - call it what you will, this is one of the best ways to eat around town, even when you’ve no show to rush off to. The typical pre-theatre dinner has an appeal all of its own, usually featuring pared-back, unfussy menus and, best of all, a small bill. Some of the best restaurants around offer undeniably great value, usually in the early evening. But bear in mind, these are the same chefs cooking the rest of the night - you’re simply getting a cut-price preview of some brilliant food.
Etto, 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2
Etto is the critics' darling and with good reason. A compact, casual space serving excellent food, it’s a popular haunt for pre-theatre, served Monday to Thursday 5.30 pm to 6 pm. Two courses are available for €25 or three for €29. It’s a busy half hour, usually with clued-in locals and concertgoers headed to the National Concert Hall. Etto’s Italian leaning menu is fairly pared-back anyway, so you won’t miss out too much on the pre-theatre option, which usually features grilled fish, pasta or risotto and something meaty. Excellent wines by the glass and carafe are well suited to speedy eaters, and their famous dessert of red wine prunes with vanilla mascarpone is usually on there; make sure to try it.
Chapter One, 18-19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Perhaps one of the best known pre-theatre menu options in Dublin is Chapter One, allowing a relatively affordable taste of this Michelin-starred stalwart with a three-course option for €42. Given its proximity to The Gate theatre, it’s another busy one so booking is always advised. The menu is served Tuesday to Saturday from 5.00 pm - 5.30 pm, and offers a generous four options per course. The menu always features plenty of Irish produce - farmhouse cheese, the best Irish seafood and anything great that’s in season. The food is as thoughtfully cooked as you’ll get with your á la carte, and presented with an insight into each dish from the attentive staff. Undeniably great value.
One of the best value pre-theatre menus in town - you could easily spend three times as much per person here eating á la carte (and I have done, happily!), as I always find the general affability at Luna encourages you to relax, indulge, enjoy and order. The pre-theatre menu is €30, served Tuesday to Saturday from 5 pm to 6.30 pm, and is broken down into very Italian Primi, Secondi and Dolce. Expect to find plenty of their excellent Italian choices, including fish, pasta and meat options and be sure to enjoy your dolce, which arrives and is served from a divine dessert trolley. It gets quite buzzy and busy here later in the evening, so enjoy the calmness of your early booking to peer in on the kitchen and soak up the luxurious atmosphere.
Cliff Townhouse and Urchin, 22 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
The Cliff Townhouse is an elegant Georgian dining room and in perfect proximity to Grafton Street; therefore, close to plenty of places you may be headed and in need of a pre-theatre fix. Seafood is the focus here, with a menu featuring plenty of sustainable seafood from Irish waters. The pre-theatre offers plenty of choice and will include classics like smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, fish pie and fish and chips, followed by an old-school but elegant dessert selection. The menu is served Monday to Saturday from 5 pm to 6.15 pm, offering two courses for €25 and three for €30. Celebrate your savings and indulge in their excellent champagne and wine menu, offering some nice choices by the glass.
Glover's Alley, 128 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
A new addition to the world of pre-theatre and a great option to experience the glamour and glitz of Glovers Alley for a fraction of what you could spend on the á la carte. The food served here is elegant, thoughtful and features plenty of Irish produce. It’s available Tuesday to Thursday from 6 pm until 7 pm and comes in at €35 for two courses or €45 for three courses. Your pre-theatre here offers just as much theatre as the full á la carte meal will do, with snacks and petit fours included, and there is a formidable wine list with plenty on offer by the glass. And the icing on the cake? They offer complimentary parking to all diners between 6 and 11 pm at the Fitzwilliam Hotel. Savings galore!
Pichet, 15 Trinity Street, Dublin 2
Right in the centre of town, Pichet is a marvellous choice for lots of reasons but most of all for its great food, done well. The pre-theatre, available for lunch also, offers one, two or three courses for a very reasonable €16, €22 or €28, which means you’ll find plenty of savvy regulars packed in between 5 to 6.30 pm each day. All the food here has a strong Irish focus, cooked with skill from a busy kitchen. You’ll find some of their classics like country terrine and chocolate mousse on the pre-theatre, along with changing seasonal dishes. There’s a good selection of wines by the glass, which adds to all the reasons this is an excellent option.
The Winding Stair, 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1
The perfect choice for a cultured evening is The Winding Stair with it’s Yeats inspired name, the historical building, a dining room with views of the Liffey and Ha’penny bridge and warm wooden interiors. Then there’s the menu, peppered with mentions of brilliant Irish producers Martin Flynns vegetables, Ballinwillin wild boar, Dingle gin cured salmon and Fingal Ferguson Gubbeen. You definitely won’t feel like you're missing out when you choose the pre-theatre with 2 courses for €26.95 and 3 courses for €30.95. An extensive drinks list includes plenty of wonderful wine options along with showcasing lots of great Irish artisan beers and ciders.