IRISH food connoisseurs have lost their appetite for fine dining with seven out of 10 top restaurants able to take bookings for a Saturday night at just two days' notice.
In the week that top eatery Mint closed down due to the economic downturn, the country's most highly rated restaurants are all feeling the pinch.
Michelin stars, rave reviews and word of mouth have done little to pack them in and now it seems possible to achieve the impossible – getting a table without notice.
Of 10 coveted establishments contacted last Thursday afternoon, only two – Chapter One on Parnell Square on Dublin's northside and MacNean House and Restaurant in Cavan – said it was impossible to get a table for two last night.
The other culinary kings – Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud,
l'Ecrivain, Bon Appétit, Thorntons and Locks in Dublin, Dunbrody House, Monart and Whites in Wexford – were all able to find a spare table at some hour of the evening.
Last week, acclaimed chef Dylan McGrath was forced to close his popular Mint restaurant in Ranelagh, Dublin, reportedly due to the recession.
He was quoted last week as saying his business had locked its doors "due to economic pressure" despite the fact that it was awarded a much coveted Michelin star 14 months ago.
Top food and restaurant critic Paolo Tullio said the closure of Mint was "sad".
"Restaurants are definitely the first expression of disposable income to disappear," he said.
According to reports, Mint's downfall first became apparent due to a reduction in prices a number of months ago.
But the same fate has hit the majority of establishments who made successful businesses during the boom and who, in more recent times, have had to offer specials and deals in order to keep the customers coming through the doors.
In the past it may have been inconceivable to book a table in a top restaurant just two days before a Saturday night, but not anymore.
Paulo Tullio said that while it has become easier to get tables at short notice, there are still some establishments where you wouldn't have a chance. "You could try phoning Neven Maguire's MacNeans and ask for a table for next Saturday and you would get a table sometime in September. It is not across the board," he said.
"But there is definitely a sense that even people who have money don't want to be seen conspicuously spending it. People who have just a little bit of money are holding it back to see if they are going to keep their jobs; is business is going to go bad. There is still a lot of waiting going on."
We asked 10 of Ireland's top restaurants for a table for two on Saturday night (last night) as close to 8pm as possible
*Represents number of Michelin stars
1. **Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud (Upper Merrion Street, Dublin) – "I think we can squeeze you in".
2. *Chapter One (Parnell Square, Dublin) – Fully booked. "There wouldn't be a Saturday for quite some time".
3. *l'Ecrivain (Lower Baggot Street, Dublin) – Fully booked but table available for the following Saturday.
4. *Bon Appétit (Malahide, Dublin) – 7pm or 9.30pm.
5. *Thornton's (St Stephen's Green, Dublin) – 6 or 9.30pm.
6. MacNean House and Restaurant (Cavan) – "Not unless anything changes in relation to cancellations".
7. Monart (Wexford) – 7, 8.30, 9 or 9.30pm.
8. White's of Wexford – "That is no problem at all".
9. Dunbrody House (Wexford) – 7.15, 7.30 or 8.45pm.
10. Locks (Portobello, Dublin) – 8.30pm.