Taking It Ouside
Or, a desperate attempt to recreate the restaurant experience during lockdown.
by Rosie Sluggett | 22 March 2021
Aside from regular trips out for a coffee and a snack, I have been dubious about ordering restaurant meals as takeaway food in the past year. Buying food out is typically bound up in the restaurant experience itself, and it seemed to me that ordering for delivery of takeaway was expensive, usually lukewarm, and profoundly lacking in atmosphere. Yet by January, the idea of being served food in a place that isn’t your own home seemed like an unattainable dream. Armed with the excuse that we must keep the eateries financially afloat, here are three short accounts of my surrender to lockdown restauranting.
Mid-February, Westbourne Grove, 13.00pm.
In search of some heavy carbohydrates, a friend and I head to a communal favourite pre-lockdown haunt, Caprese deli on Westbourne Grove. As I enter, the warming smell of garlic and numerous film posters featuring Sophia Loren engulf me. I order a pesto gnocchi. Basic, yes, but owing to my disgust for lukewarm meals I am planning ahead – potato holds heat well, and pesto is fresh and light, not completely ruined by a little convection. Sadly, I see that my favourite nonna, who has suspiciously long hot pink acrylic nails and is usually full of buon appetitos, is a little stressed, beginning at one point to throw Cannoli into our takeaway bag whilst apologising for the wait in a mixture of Italian and English. After many thank yous, we leave with our accidental food haul, but halfway down Queensway, we realise that disaster has struck. In her panic, nails nonna has forgotten to give me a fork. It is too late to turn back. My usual saunter down to Hyde park is disrupted by a hunger provoked panic about my fork. I did not pay £8.50 for my gnocchi to eat it stone cold, let alone with my bare hands. I run into Sainsburys, only to find that disposable forks are locked away in their little pasta pot coffins. I ask a man in a café, but he says I must buy something if I am to have a fork. Fair play. I take note, I go to Pret, attempt to buy a 99p waffle, only to be told that I am not allowed to have a disposable fork for a waffle. I leave the waffle. I would encourage anyone reading this to cancel Pret. I am now frantic. The heat from my gnocchi is depreciating every second. I hope I am not raising your blood pressure too much with this tale, but do not fear, for the issue was soon resolved. The friend I was with, who is considerably fitter than me, only needs to ask once at a café for a fork, which then comes lovingly wrapped in a napkin. Crisis averted, and I am able settle in the park. The gnocchi are a delight, a huge tub of oily, salty, green starch nuggets, the pesto boasting the perfect ratio of cheese to basil to pine nut. Paired with half a bottle of now warm rosé, all my stresses evaporate. Yes, numerous temperatures are off, but the turmoil of the journey makes the end destination all the more delicious.
Indeterminable evening, 7.00pm. Admittedly, not outside.
My previous encounters with Deliveroo have been disappointing, and I’m unsure as to why I felt this time would be any different. Perhaps desperation. Regardless, my housemates and I had decided that tonight was to be taco night. I had queued at four supermarkets to source margarita ingredients and was now determined to have a good time. After the usual Deliveroo delays, our amateur combinations of pure tequila, orange gin (a creative but regrettable substitute for Cointreau) and lime juice were beginning to take considerable effect. Yet no level of bodily numbness could prepare us for the impending taste of disappointment. Apparently, it only takes twenty minutes for recyclable takeaway boxes to infuse their contents with the essence of cardboard, which did not aid the chewy blandness of almost everything we’d ordered. I am an advocate of saving the turtles, but at this point the sweet nostalgia of polystyrene efficiency lingers in my mind. The tacos had a vague air of flavour, which I can appreciate would be stronger if they’d arrived straight out of the kitchen, but the incorrectness of the order which left our vegetarian friend with nothing to eat stripped the evening of its last scraps of joy. That night, we were all forced to drink to forget.
Mid-March, Marylebone High Street, 13.30pm.
We’ve got six mini bottles of Côtes du Rhône and we are ready to splash some serious cash. While £15.50 for a baguette would typically boil my blood, this is no ordinary baguette. This is the product of legendary novel French steak frites restaurant L'entrecote, who usually serve a set menu of walnut salad, followed by two helpings of fries and sliced steak swimming in an indescribably delicious butter sauce. In a streak of stereotypical genius, during the lockdown this adventure in gluttony is being served as takeaway in a crusty, warm French baguette. Although the restaurant experience here is non-transferrable (generally, waitresses dressed as maids flit around you as the glamourous Marylebone clientele get progressively drunker and rowdier, in the most entertaining way imaginable), these baguettes are no disappointment. Wrapped tightly in foiled paper, and slotted into a brown paper bag, the baguette is easy to eat outside, with no risk of spillage. The bread is fresh and light, able to compliment but not texturally overpower its precious contents. The fries, sauce and melt in the mouth steak – exactly how I remembered. As the light filters through the trees in our chosen picnic spot of Marylebone churchyard, the only disruption to our baguette-bliss is the incessant presence of hungry pigeons. By this time, I’ve forgotten that I’ve spent about twenty quid on a lunch, and am pondering, perhaps this takeaway option isn’t so bad after all?
I remind myself that I must not allow the liquid element of meals to obscure my critical reflections. It is apparent that everyone working in the hospitality industry is trying their best, but the limitations of serving food this way will never reach the lofty heights of the pre-corona restaurant experience. Unless an unavoidable desperation kicks in, I will perhaps refrain from trying to enjoy restaurant-quality food, sans restaurant, until the next arbitrary date Bo-Jo decides is ideal for the reopening of these culinary Meccas.