On a budget

Eating out can weigh heavily on your wallet, but it needn’t be that way on the island of Ireland

Want to find the best budget food on the island? Just follow the locals. After all, they’re the ones that know all the tips and tricks to hunting down a wallet-friendly dinner, from excellent farm-to-fork feasts in traditional pubs to upscale burger joints to fabulous picnic spots. Here’s a few suggestions to get you started.

George's Market, Belfast
George's Market, Belfast

Picnic picks

Farmers’ markets, a profusion of delis and ever-accessible countryside means picnicking in Ireland is a natural pastime. And food halls such as Cork’s English Market and George’s Market in Belfast are essential stop-offs.

Grab some top-class artisan cheeses and salamis, fresh bread and homemade apple juice from a local deli or farmers’ market and head for one of the island’s fabulous scenic spots. And it’s not hard to find a scenic place to chill out, from harbourside piers, to beautiful urban parks and sun-dappled canal banks. 

Early bird, lunch deals and cheap eats

The early bird is an institution. Most good restaurants now offer an early bird menu, where you can eat at a fraction of the a la carte price, midweek between certain hours (usually between 5pm and 7pm). What’s more, over the last couple of years most savvy eateries have begun featuring on “early-bird”-style menus all night from Monday to Thursday, and in some places up until 7pm on Friday, with similar value menus on offer lunch.

In the big cities, you’ll find new restaurants that have made affordable eating a cornerstone of their philosophy. Crackbird in Dublin started out as a quirky pop-up concept and has since become a mainstay on the urban eating scene, Rocket and Relish in Belfast is fast food with an gourmet slant thanks to chargrilled Northern Irish beef burgers for under £5, or check out lunch at the Ard Bia café in Galway’s historic Spanish Arch.

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Michelin-starred faves

Okay, so Michelin restaurants are never going to be “budget”, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be good value! As well as being more affordable than Michelin restaurants in continental Europe, Ireland’s starry favourites offer up some really great lunch deals, as well as early bird or “pre-theatre” menus.

Make sure to call ahead and make a reservation for a Michelin spot – the value offered at lunchtime means that these places can book up quite far in advance, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.

Don’t forget the pub

Back in 1950s Ireland, a pub lunch consisted of a packet of Tayto crisps and a bag of salted peanuts thrown in for dessert. But over the last decade, the island’s pubs have transformed themselves into dens of gourmet delights. These days, you can sip an Irish craft beer or stout while tucking into great local gastropub favourites such as fish and chips, Irish stew, crab claws, cockles and mussls, bacon and cabbage, Dublin Bay prawns, oysters, and beef and Guinness pie. 

Try out Hargadon’s, Sligo; The Exchequer, Dublin; The Munster Bar, Waterford; John Hewitt and McHugh's, Belfast; Harry's Bar and Restaurant, Inishowen; and The Parson's Nose, Hillsborough, County Down.  

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