A third of the British population is now under orders to stay at home. Christmas parties are cancelled, date nights are a thing of a bygone age and the UK is seemingly heading towards a third lockdown.
At least this time restaurants are prepared. Amid the suddenness and severity of the first lockdown in March, many were caught off guard without the facilities to offer takeaway or delivery service. With future viability on the line, many are determined not to make that mistake again.
In much of the country, including the capital, restaurants are closed to eat-in diners and nervousness regarding soaring Covid-19 case numbers means would-be restaurant-goers are seeking out other options.
So perhaps the answer is the plethora of high-quality restaurant meal kits you can now have delivered to your door. In most cases, the vast majority of the cooking is done for you, all that needs to be done is a quick reheat and assembly job to achieve a Michelin-starred menu served in your own home.
I decided to put this to the test, ordering a three-course meal from East London’s Michelin-starred Galvin La Chapelle. The set menu box arrived on my doorstep with none of the pomp and circumstance of more established meal-kit delivery services, such as Hello Fresh or Pasta Evangelists.
The unbranded packaging gave off a first impression that this was somewhat akin to a meals-on-wheels service with courses packed in cooker-safe plastic containers – not quite what I expected at £90 ($120) plus delivery for two people. The saving grace was the aroma of truffle unleashed in the unpacking.
There were stumbling blocks almost right away. The recipe called to reheat the starter, a lasagne of Dorset crab with buerre Nantais and pea shoots, in a steamer. Do many Londoners own a steamer? I certainly do not. I mulled popping it into the oven with a couple of teaspoons of water but eventually settled on whacking it in the microwave with a glass of water. I imagine the chef who prepared this would be incandescent at my ineptitude and flagrant disregard for such high-end ingredients. Thankfully, it survived its blitz and tasted pretty decent.
As the host of a few successful dinner parties and a couple that were distinctly less so, boiling my main course of a daube of beef bourguignon in a bag rather felt like cheating. As it oozed on to the plate from its bag and I cack-handedly attempted an elegant chive garnish with one hand while passing cutlery to the table with the other, I quite missed the quiet mystery and efficiency of five-star service.
Meanwhile, the experience of eating it at the same table that has become my office over the past nine months remains unsatisfying. Maybe my oven just is not as good. Or, perhaps, the key to a Michelin-starred meal may be a Michelin-starred chef close by.
There is plenty more to the top-class restaurant experience than the food. The service, ambience and simply not having to do risk gravy stains is what I look forward to, but until hospitality can return in full this is a close second.
And certainly, should a dinner party gathering ever be allowed again, I will be much tempted to swap the stress of ensuring all elements of my meal are ready at the same time for the simplicity and guaranteed taste of a Galvin at Home menu once more.