Just a month ago, the idea that Sydney’s version of fine dining would arrive in a cardboard box was inconceivable. Now, it’s just another part of the new world order.
- As coronavirus lockdowns affect restaurants, many have turned to takeaway
- Some involve the customer preparing or cooking parts of the meal, then plating it up
- One chef hopes it will show the work that goes into creating a restaurant experience
Rosebery couple Connie Attard and Katherine Lowing were excited opening up their $110 takeaway box from the two-hatted Bentley Restaurant and Bar in Sydney’s CBD.
Inside they found 13 different packets to formulate their multi-course meal, instructions on how to plate it, and even a link to a curated Spotify playlist to play in the background.
“As you’re listening to it you do think, yeah, I would hear that type of music in that restaurant,” Ms Lowing said.
The COVID-19 outbreak may have forced them to close their doors, but top-tier restaurants are pivoting their business models to recreate the fine dining experience at home.
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Monopole and Yellow in Potts Point, Mr. Wong in Sydney’s CBD, Fred’s in Paddington and Ester in Chippendale are part of the growing list of hatted restaurants offering takeaway for the first time — and treading carefully to uphold their reputations in a changed economy.
This is no regular takeaway. To maintain the just-cooked quality, the customer adds a few extra steps.
Ms Lowing has also tried Mr. Wong’s takeaway offering and prepped her meal by slicing onions and caramelising the pre-chopped chicken.
“In some ways it gives you a feeling of being part of its creation,” she said.
“They do such a good job of putting it together that really you don’t play much of a role, but you feel like you are.”
That was the intention, according to Dan Hong, the Merivale chef behind the Mr Wong menu.
With Sydneysiders having more time to cook at home, it made sense to flavour the food with a sense of achievement.
Hong’s workload has been halved due to coronavirus, so he has turned to making isolation cooking videos on Instagram where he plates up dishes like ox-tongue fried rice, prawn toast or American-style cheeseburgers.
In one video, he presents a finished burger for the camera and calls it “a classic”, only for his 7-year-old daughter Namira to quip from the background: “It’s not classic, it’s not classic at all.”
It’s the kind of deprecating real-world ambience that makes his 82,000 followers feel at ease as they follow videos of the top chef’s recipes, which his wife films on an iPhone.
“I think that’s why people enjoy it. I’m not trying to dumb things down. If my daughter interrupts me I’m not going to edit that out and start again.”
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Head chef at CicciaBella in Bondi, Mitch Orr was temporarily stood down as he waits for the restaurant to re-open for takeaway.
Sitting idle at home, he decided to start creating step-by-step tutorials to help people cook like a professional.
“I know people are panic buying pasta, minced beef and tomatoes and that made me depressed because I could just imagine the terrible, terrible Bolognese people were cooking,” he said.
The enforced break has given Orr and Hong a chance to recalibrate and an appreciation for the ingenuity shown so far to keep their industry afloat.
But they are deeply concerned about the future of the restaurant business.
Hong said the Federal Government’s JobKeeper assistance had provided relief but was not enough to safeguard all his workers.
Both he and Orr are particularly concerned about those on temporary working visas who may be forced to leave the country if restaurants cannot rehire them.
Ms Lowing said while she enjoyed at-home fine dining, it highlighted just how good the experience of going to a restaurant could be.
“You’re just reminded of everything that goes into creating a good dining experience: the service, the banter, the lighting, the music, that whole atmosphere,” she said.
“[But] we want to support those businesses now so we can help them remain open on the other side of this.”