Early-bird menus happy hours, curry clubs – all phrases which provoke a bout of culinary snobbishness from discerning foodies.
But those averse to discounted dishes certainly have a point.
The curry club is often a chance for pubs to make some excellent mark-up on a microwaveable tikka masala and some synthetic-tasting naan sponges, while early-bird menus invariably offer a bland selection from the eatery’s beige-est range of dishes.
Just because you are eating before 6pm, it doesn’t mean you want ham, egg and chips – especially if you were expecting to be able to choose from the full evening menu advertised on the restaurant’s website.
But snobbery aside, the early bird still has its place in the dining scene.
Theatregoers need to get fed and finished by 6pm if they are going to make the opening curtain and – frankly – having spent a sizeable fund on tickets, are looking for an affordable bite.
Which is exactly the situation my partner and I found ourselves in when we booked a table at Sorrentino’s in Gold Street, Northampton, in January.
Our paper’s last visit there in 2012 provoked a glowing review, so three years on we felt it high time to pay the family-run ristorante another visit – albeit at 5pm this time.
The good news is, even at this early hour Sorrentino’s has not lost any of its charm in those three years.
The downstairs dining area still has a bit of a canteen feel to it and the menus come on a slightly 80s style laminate.
But the upstairs snug is cosy and the decor perfectly rustic.
With time (and cash) of the essence, we opt for the early bird menu, which offers two courses for £11.95 and three for £14.95 per person.
My partner orders the garlic bread to start and I order the mushrooms baked in tomato and cheese with parma ham.
Simple enough fare, but well made, sizeable and delivered within around five minutes from ordering.
At 5.15pm we have finished our starters and have every optimism of squeezing a pudding and coffees in within the hour.
For mains I pick the penne Gorgonzola with rocket, and my partner the lasagne.
Hardly the most daring choices, we assess afterwards, but the clock is ticking and the ballet tickets were a Christmas present.
Had we had a bit more time, there were plenty of gems on the menu to choose aside from, including an aubergine parmigiana with lamb loin and the seafood Sorrentino, which I spot a neighbouring diner order and look on with jealousy as they tuck into what looks to be an appealing shellfish taster board.
This is an early-bird which offers far more than high-profit pasta dishes, it’s a decent menu in its own right.
Our mains, despite mild envy at my neighbour’s clam tower, are rich, cheese-heaped and nicely presented too.
Everything you want from an Italian restaurant and delivered within minutes.
It’s 5.25pm and we are two courses down, so to our surprise, it leaves us more than enough time to gulp down those desserts and coffees.
Just a tiramisu and bread and butter pudding to choose from in course three.
But if you are going to have a slimmed-down early evening menu, then surely these are the two Italian desserts you want to keep.
The bill is paid and we are out the door by 5.45pm, quite full, with only ourselves to blame.
If anything, the only criticism could be that both my partner and I barely had a moment to rest between courses and were reminded, on more than one occasion, that our table was booked out from 6pm by a party of ten.
Rushed maybe, but you will be hard pushed to find a better discounted three-course menu of fresh food that can get you to your show on time.
And not a microwaved naan in site.
64 Gold Street, Northampton, NN1 1RS
DISABLED ACCESS: Ground floor dining area has wheelchair room.
PARKING: Nearest car park is St Peter’s Way
TOTAL COST £42.50
STAR RATING: 8/10