Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, plenty of the UAE's higher-end restaurants didn't offer a delivery option.
And perhaps that was for good reason; if you're paying Dh200 for a single meal, would you want to chance it arriving lukewarm, or with condiments missing, or simply not as good as it would be if you were dining in?
But with the pandemic outbreak, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi imposing restrictions on the restaurant industry in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, suddenly delivery was the only option.
It meant a rapid pivot to gourmet delivery options that the UAE hadn't yet experienced; with the likes of LPM, Coya, Couqley, Zuma, BB Social Dining, and more, bringing their fare straight to your door. And even as restaurants are allowed to reopen, to a 30 per cent capacity, these options will probably need to stick around.
But when you're paying top dollar for fine dining, how can you be assured that what you're getting is restaurant quality?
We speak to the head chefs of two of Dubai's most well-known high-end restaurants, Coya and LPM Restaurant & Bar (formerly La Petite Maison) to find out.
Fine dining does not travel well. True or false?
Coya's head chef, Benjamin Wan, is a big believer that fine-dining delivery "definitely works". Coya now offers more than half of its a la carte menu for takeaway and delivery. However, calls from the public for bao and ceviche have had to be firmly rejected.
"Some items we just will not consider for delivery due to health and safety issues and quality issues from the food not holding well during travel," Wan says.
LPM's chef patron, Raphael Duntoye, is of the opposite opinion, saying "fine dining is best served in the restaurant".
However, the restaurant has been able to "provide a delivery service worthy of the LPM name".
How menus have changed to ensure food travels well
Wan says the switch from in-house fine dining to packing the same quality food for delivery was "challenging".
"The one and only factor we took into account was if a specific dish travelled well. If it didn’t, we would not consider it for the menu."
Many trials were conducted, Wan says, sending dishes to staff over a wide radius to see which worked and which didn't. For that reason, raw fish and seafood were out of the question.
"We had to consider the consequences of a 20-minute travel time; if the quality was questionable, we totally dismissed it."
Other adjustments were about playing with existing dishes.
"We leave out the cress on the hot food; the cazuelas are slightly looser than how we would serve it at the restaurant as the rice absorbs the moisture during the travel time," Wan says.
"For the fried items, we do not cover the food straight from the fryer, we let it steam off for one minute so the condensation is minimal when the lid goes on."
At LPM, Duntoye says they received such "an overwhelming number of requests from guests" and wanted to keep all 143 staff employed, so moving to delivery was a no-brainer.
Finding the correct cooking points and adjusting their way of preparing the food were also imperative. Now, hot dishes need to "still be cooking" even as they're en route to the customer.
"We needed to ensure a dish does not arrive soggy or overcooked," Duntoye says. "Hot dishes will now leave the restaurant undercooked so that they continue cooking when travelling and arrive perfectly."
Special attention had to also go into packaging each item correctly, providing plating instructions, garnishes that should be added after the food has arrived and also reheating instructions in case of "delivery issues".
From meal assembly to packing: why it's now so important
At Coya, plenty of practise went into ensuring the food is prepared and executed as close as possible to the delivery time. However, it is the packing of the food that is the "tricky part", Wan says.
"The runners have to be crazy fast to get the packing completed, still hot and in the bags ready for the drivers."
Wan admits that even now, he orders secretly as a guest to ensure the quality is consistent.
For LPM, like Coya, plenty of tests were conducted and the menu needed to be reduced to ensure it all travelled well. But LPM paid special attention to recreating the dine-in experience at home.
So much so, that the restaurant is putting its signature tomato, olive oil and lemon, which it places on every table, in every takeaway bag, too. The stylish tote is decorated with the frames from the restaurant, there's a personalised card signed by the team, and they have also created playlists to reflect the restaurant's atmosphere (available on Spotify as "LPM – La Vie en Rose").
The delivery menu features about 60 per cent of the restaurant's a la carte menu, including most of the signature dishes – think baby chicken, lamb chops, burrata and cheesecake.
"We looked into every aspect of delivery to ensure the experience is worth what our guests are paying for."
So why didn't high-end restaurants offer delivery before?
For Coya, delivery was considered several years ago, but was "pushed to one side" to focus on in-house dining.
"It’s a shame that it had to take a global situation like we are in now for it to be at the forefront of what we do," Wan says.
LPM, too, had "entertained the idea in the past", Duntoye says, as customers had requested the option.
"Fortunately enough, our level of business has always made us prioritise dining in," Duntoye says.
"To launch a delivery service, we didn’t want to rush into it and do it like everyone else. We wanted to do it right and ensure the experience would be as close to the one in our restaurants."
One dish that wouldn't have travelled well, but does now
From Coya: chocolate fundido (Coya's take on the chocolate fondant).
Wan says: "I was very sceptical when our Middle East pastry chef suggested it. It took two weeks of convincing me before I would even consider it. He even had one delivered to my house on my day off, with clear instructions on how to heat it (since we slightly under-bake it), which I followed. I was convinced."
From LPM: red cabbage salad with apples.
Duntoye says: "We have had to let the guests finish the dish at home by pouring the dressing after plating to ensure the cabbage remains fresh and crunchy."