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A year without restaurants.


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How have you coped with a year without restaurants?

I love going to restaurants and I get excited about trying new things, but on a day to day basis I really prefer to make stuff at home and make things myself. What I think I've realised that I'm missing is inspiration and to an extent, the artistry of an expertly made dish or cocktail.

Some of that can be replicated, I can pull out recipes from a book and I can try something I haven't had before but some of it really can't be. I remember sitting up at the bar in below and being handed a cocktail that was vividly green, speaking to the bartender and tasting the sorrel syrup they had made for the drink and just being blown away - it opened up my mind to the idea of using alternative sources of sour, or citrus flavours and gave me an appreciation of using vegetal flavours in bright, fresh drinks.

I've noticed myself being lazy, and maybe a little bit falling out of love with cooking and feeling bored or uninspired and I don't think that's a feature of being indoors as much as it is about turning off that tap of new experiences - as much as you can replicate that with books or youtube it's not the same as tasting something you've never tried before.

With us potentially experiencing another year of this, now that the government has manoeuvred us into their ideal situation of working full time while eschewing all social function - what are you missing? What are you doing to replace the role restaurants and bars used to play in your culinary lives? 

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For me the most difficult thing in regard to this is having recently moved to a new area and not been able to try the new places.Now that I only live couple of miles from the sea I expected to be eating a huge amount of freshly caught fish, but it hasn't happened. I have had some takeout pop up restaurant stuff to help support some of the small places, but it isn't the same.

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Over Christmas, I cooked some "proper" roasts and so on, here in gErmany. Introduced the girlfriend to some "stable" British foods that foreigners never really see or hear about. But I can't really be arsed. It was a bit of fun, but takes a lot of time, and then you eat the damn thing so quickly. It's entropy all over. I just dislike cooking, but my girlfriend is pretty bad at it. We decided I cook and she cleans the apartment, being as I am apparently shit at that.

 

Tonight I will fry some chicken breast and boil a potato. Can't be arsed to go to the shop for more, and that's all we have.

 

I greatly miss restaurants. That's the thing, isn't it. We're now working either home office (isn't it great crowd?!) or still going to work (shit) or furloughed, but all social aspects are cancelled. My gym is closed and we have an 8pm curfew. I leave the apartment a few times per week to go to the supermarket, and I've not left the 100m around my bed in the last .. 4 months.

 

As for the bar, I went mental at Christmas and bought loads of booze. Decided to bring the bar into the house. I can now make a great G&T, mean vodka martini, and learnt how to make a favourite of mine when in the US: the Old Fashioned.

 

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I bought a jigger and all the right ingredients including a nice bourbon whiskey.

 

In truth, it's "ok". We are cooking more, together, at weekends etc... but god it is boring overall. I would love to pop out for a meal. There's no Uber in Germany and even the takeaway pizza is pretty woeful.

 

On the plus side, I am an hour ahead and it's the cocktail hour. Cheers.

 

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If you like your old fashioned, you should try making a bourbon sour. Doesn't need any extra alcoholic ingredients than you already have. Try doing it with egg white for a smooth texture, and always use freshly squeezed lemons (if you don't already have one a Mexican Elbow is well worth the investment: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07HGXVTQT/ref=sspa_dk_detail_0)

 

Here's a decent recipe:

 

https://www.diffordsguide.com/cocktails/recipe/2083/whiskey-sour-diffords-recipe

 

You can make your own sugar syrup, it's literally just sugar and water, ignore the recipe's requirement that you buy premade.

 

Also I think the recipe does it the wrong way round - it's better to dry shake first, then add ice, then wet shake.

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The place I've managed to experiment and be creative with most is drinks - I've come up with a few original recipes which have been a big success and made a bunch of new ingredients.

Some of the things I've made myself to give new ingredients to work with have been ideal for sours, as that's mostly what I drink.

Dale Degroff Triple Syrup - a blend of Simple Syrup, Honey Syrup and Agave - adds complexity and depth
Dead Rabbit Lemon Sherbet - Lemon Oleo Saccharum mixed with Lemon Juice - adds brightness and intensity

The Cocktail Guy Yoghurt Vodka - Yoghurt Washed Spirit - for clarified sours without citrus juice

I've made a keffir washed tequila which I'm going to mix with Lime Oleo and orange flower water to make a clear margherita


I wish I could say the same for food as that's where I'm feeling the most lazy, some of the most creative things I've ever eaten have been vegetable dishes and yet I'm here eating sandwiches and pasta every meal.

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4 minutes ago, thingymajig said:

The explosion in restaurants selling at-home meal boxes, some of which are very high-quality and have been thoroughly enjoyable, has been something that's at least partially filled the void.


Which ones have you had? I keep looking but there's nothing that's really grabbed me yet. I'm waiting for Gautier to re-start their vegan tasting menu again as that looked fantastic but I was skint at the back end of the year.

I've only had the meals from my local indian restaurant which have been fantastic. It's a slightly higher end experience, focused on Hyderabadi cuisine and they deliver nationwide now.

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My wife is an excellent cook and her enthusiasm for it has largely remained undimmed over the course of this horror show so we have eaten as well as ever really. (I do of course participate too, but she cooks far more than me and we would certainly not fare as well were it left entirely up to me, almost entirely out of laziness.)

 

We moved to London about 18 months ago. This meant that we got about 6 months of exploring the various new opportunities for eating and other things that this afforded us, followed by a year of enjoying precisely none of that. Bit frustrating!

 

We haven't really dipped into the at-home box offerings yet, mainly because they seem largely quite expensive and we're cooking decent things from scratch ourselves most of the time anyway. I miss the experience - being brought a beautifully cooked meal, prepared invisibly while I chat over some wine - not the food so specifically. I am aware of course that they support the restaurants, and so really ought to be more open to them.

 

Hopefully the summer, or at least late summer, will allow a full-blooded return to restaurants etc., after a little vaccine amuse-bouche.

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1 hour ago, Gaz said:


Which ones have you had? I keep looking but there's nothing that's really grabbed me yet. I'm waiting for Gautier to re-start their vegan tasting menu again as that looked fantastic but I was skint at the back end of the year.

I've only had the meals from my local indian restaurant which have been fantastic. It's a slightly higher end experience, focused on Hyderabadi cuisine and they deliver nationwide now.

 

Coincidentally Clays is one of the ones I've tried! I very much enjoyed it and would have again, look forward to visiting it when it eventually opens again.  The Northcote box is very nice, too, but for price reasons, it's not something I would buy weekly.

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37 minutes ago, thingymajig said:

 

Coincidentally Clays is one of the ones I've tried! I very much enjoyed it and would have again, look forward to visiting it when it eventually opens again.  The Northcote box is very nice, too, but for price reasons, it's not something I would buy weekly.


Clays is fantastic, the actual restaurant isn't much to look at - it's a small, windowless place - but the service is fantastic and there are some stand out dishes that haven't made it onto the delivery service - paneer majestic is like nothing I've ever tasted before, and the kodi chips are incredibly morish.

If you are local to the area, Orwells do a tasting menu which I'm eager to try too but it's collection only. I've eaten at the restaurant and it was great, far better than the much more expensive L'ortalan.
https://www.theorwellscommunityshop.co.uk/theorwellsexperience

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We had a diy-meal from  https://the-poutinerie.myshopify.com/

 

It's a bit weird this one because it's basically cheesy chips with gravy though obviously to reduce Poutine to that description is probably heresy. But I think it did feel quite nice to have a high quality indulgent ready meal. They even gave you little cardboard boxes so you could feel like you got it from a van.

 

But I've not had much inspiration for the kits beyond that.

 

Pidgin now do nationwide, which I'd be very interested to try as a higher end place I've been to more than once.  Considering they always did a tasting /set menu style at quite a high end, I just have to wonder how much the presentation mattered for the food experience, and whether trying to plate it up at home in a fancy way actually feels worth it.

 

I think I'm a pretty good cook and I got a sous vide for my birthday which gave me a lot of new techniques to try, and with extra time I think I don't miss any kind of level of food itself. We've eaten pretty well during lockdown. When Natoora opened up their previously Chef-only app to consumers it gave me this huge option for really interesting veg that I couldn't normally get (and now loads of it is on Ocado too). So a few weird ingredients or lesser known, higher quality variations of things like carrots, tomatoes, etc has made home cooking feel just that bit more high end.

 

But I do miss the experience of being served a meal, waited on. Not having to wash up. Being allowed to have more courses and really nice cocktails and not having to have loads of different ingredients in or feeling like you spent most of the time preparing and cleaning - but the time eating just seemed to be over really quickly.

 

Getting a takeaway is generally unhealthy option too - Not that our restaurant visits were always low-cal but there was a bigger range for fresher, lower carb and vegetable rich meals in nice places. Takeaways just don't seem to veer much from centring rice / noodles / chips / bread / fried. 

 

 

 

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I'm a bit of a foodie so I've been missing eating in restaurants more than going to pubs or anything else. My 50th birthday was just before they started restricting things again back in October and we managed to get a table here https://111bymodou.co.uk/ for a late lunch (all socially distant seating, all staff wearing masks etc. Even had your own bottle of hand sanitiser on the table but didn't stop me being nervous for the next few days). The food was incredible and we've decided to get his "at home" menu for my wife's birthday next week 

 

Sample menu here and includes a bottle of wine...

 

https://111athomebymodou.bigcartel.com/product/111-by-modou-at-home-5-course-dining-experience-for-2-60-2

 

 

 

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We’ve survived by getting a few deliveroos - I know, evil - but giving the drivers big tips. 
 

We also got some meal kits delivered. I am obsessed with a burger place in Manchester called Almost Famous. I’ve only been a few times as I live nowhere near there especially now I’m in Edinburgh. We’ve had kits delivered about 5 times including their Christmas burger special and New Years Eve box that came with cocktails. I was a bit worried about replicating it at home but they were absolutely amazing. I’d highly recommend if you want a delicious slightly mad burger. The triple nom is better than the river Phoenix but the river Phoenix has frazzled on it. 
 

Im wanting this one next, Michelin star curry box. it’s £70 but will do a few meals for two.

 

https://aktarathome.co.uk/product/curry-box/

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I really miss restaurants, more than almost anything else I think over the last year. We haven't been to a pub, restaurant or cafe since last February. We've had a few takeaways from our local sushi place where we were pretty much regulars, from chatting to the delivery drivers it seems they've done really well over lockdown so at least we hopefully don't have to worry about them going out of business! But apart from that it's been all home cooking, which to be fair both my wife and I enjoy.

 

For variety more than anything else we've started getting a couple of meals from Mindful Chef each week, they're actually very good and their vegan range is superb. They're a bit more expensive than Hello Fresh and Gousto but worth it I think. However I found out yesterday they'd been bought out by Nestle of all the fucking people in November so that really makes me question whether I want to continue with them.

 

I didn't know individual restaurants were doing at-home kits now, I'm going to have to look into that.

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5 hours ago, Laine said:

We’ve survived by getting a few deliveroos - I know, evil - but giving the drivers big tips. 
 

We also got some meal kits delivered. I am obsessed with a burger place in Manchester called Almost Famous. I’ve only been a few times as I live nowhere near there especially now I’m in Edinburgh. We’ve had kits delivered about 5 times including their Christmas burger special and New Years Eve box that came with cocktails. I was a bit worried about replicating it at home but they were absolutely amazing. I’d highly recommend if you want a delicious slightly mad burger. The triple nom is better than the river Phoenix but the river Phoenix has frazzled on it. 
 

Im wanting this one next, Michelin star curry box. it’s £70 but will do a few meals for two.

 

https://aktarathome.co.uk/product/curry-box/


 

Opheem is brilliant and I have eaten there a few times. Another Michelin starred chef has recommended Akbar’s Curry Box to me and I was going to order one for NYE but didn’t get my act together in time. Apparently there’s quite a lot of food in there as well. 

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9 hours ago, El Spatula said:

I've been tempted by that a few times. Just round the corner from me.

 

Wee bit away from us, so had to take the car. Food was great, portions were on the small side as it was the 5 course fixed menu. £30 pp without wine. I wish I'd tried when it was Nico's but def give it a go when they re-open. And if I lived as close as you I'd be there at least once a month lol.

 

Spoiler

 

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Much as I like the idea of the at home boxes, I don't think it fills the gap.

 

A meal out on our own (3 kids) was a rare treat and we save up over time in order to be able to go somewhere (arguably) offensively priced for a meal, we got to just be ourselves for a few hours whilst working our way through a lengthy tasting menu (with me usually with the wine flight).

 

I long to be able to go back once things are safe, I had originally planned to go to L'Enclume for my 40th in January, and as long as our finances hold up so I don't have to use the money I've put aside that'll hopefully be something we can do in 2021.

 

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