Dining out (and in)

Confused? We all are. But as the rules on numbers continue to change, we can still eat out safely and enjoy restaurant dishes at home, says Jane Pikett

At the time of writing, someone is ranting on the radio about the impact on his human rights of the Rule of Six – the government’s latest edict concerning the number of people who can socialise together.

According to Outraged of Tunbridge Wells on Radio 4 right now, the Rule of Six “undermines his right to family life” because he, his wife and three kids can’t go out for dinner with his parents. To which others may say, think yourself lucky the restaurants are open and you can eat out, albeit in a small-ish group; a small price to pay for avoiding a spell in intensive care.

Unless you’re shielding, your local restaurant, café and pub needs you, so do them a favour and go out and enjoy yourself! And if you’re shielding, you can order online from increasing numbers of establishments who have turned their hands to takeaways and heat-and-eat ready meals.

I’m taken by the friendly and reassuring message on the website of Hinnies, Whitley Bay. It says: ‘Hinnies is open for business. We’re COVID-secure and we’re Good to Go-accredited with Visit Britain. We are continuing our popular takeaway service. We are following all government guidelines; directing guests to book in advance; have installed hand gel stations and Perspex screens; and will measure your temperature on arrival. We will adopt staggered arrivals and reduce capacities; only one person at a time will be allowed to use the washroom; dining tables will be sanitised between uses; and we will be unable to accept cash and cheque payments in preference to credit/debit cards. Thank you for your ongoing support. See you soon. Andy, Joy & Amy x’

What could be more reassuring than that? Our region’s restaurants, pubs and cafés are all over Covid security, with socially distanced tables, gallons of hand sanitiser, staff in masks, socially distanced kitchens, etc. How agile our restaurateurs are in adapting to the new normal.

If you’re still staying in, the Hinnies@Home autumn menu, which is omnivore and vegan-friendly, is an exercise in seasonal comfort. You might start with pork terrine with apple and ale chutney and toasted sourdough; follow that with spiced butternut squash, chickpea and lentil curry with Thai rice and pak choi; and finish with toasted almond panna cotta with caramelised pear. All for £19. Everything apart from the Sunday roasts is served cold with re-heating instructions. It’s so simple, it’s genius.

At Dabbawal’s Indian street food kitchens  in Newcastle city centre and Jesmond, there is ingenious new packaging to make lunchtime takeaways extra special. The Dabbabox is available with a choice of curries served with rice, salad and chutney, wraps served with masala chips and chutney, or the Tandoor Smoked Box featuring Punjabi chicken tikka, seekh kebab, salmon tikka with makhana sauce, salad and roomali roti. 

Over in Hexham, the brilliant French restaurant Bouchon has brought back its sublime takeaway menu of French classics prepared and packed ready to heat at home. Three courses are just £20 per person and you can see the menu and order via the website.

Meanwhile, chef Laura Hardy-Rochester has launched a ready meals business after providing her grandmother with home cooked food during lockdown. Based in Wooler, Laura’s frozen dishes star local produce and vegetables from her garden.

Many of us have never cooked as much as when restaurants were closed, prompting a huge trend in sourdough and now vegetable cooking thanks to the glut provided by thousands of lockdown veg patches. Covid has also prompted exponential growth in doorstep deliveries, including from Newcastle’s famous Grainger Market, which is delivering to some 5,000 customers all over the region every month. More than 20 traders’ quality produce is available online via Grainger Delivery, including butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers and cheesemongers.

Meanwhile, renowned wagyu beef and pork producer Hoardweel Farm, in the Scottish Borders has a new online shop stocked with steaks, joints, burgers, sausages, and pies.

Food and Drink North East’s (FaDNE) online Local Heroes Market offers produce from some 200 well-known names including PureKnead bakery, Burtree Puddings, Hadrian’s Game Larder, Doddington Dairy and Northumberland Cheese Co. And 10% of every purchase goes towards community good causes. 

Which all goes to show, lasting good has grown out of lockdown and this tricky post-lockdown period. Doubtless, more restaurants and producers will diversify their offering with packaged goods and provisions for sale, takeout and delivery services which will continue after Covid restrictions are a distant memory. Which all means, we can eat safely out and in. Just keep your eye on numbers…

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