The days of wining, dining and being doted on by maitre d’s and sommeliers attending to your every whim are over. At least for the next few weeks as the latest government directive to keep people at home to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus kicks in. From April 7 to May 4 at least, restaurants can only offer takeaway or home delivery services, putting paid to the dining experience that we’ve taken as a given.
While some Michelin-starred restaurants such as Les Amis and Labyrinth have decided to sit it out this period, others – including Odette and Zén – are gamely making the effort to switch to a takeaway model to help shore up their bottom lines. At the three-starred Odette, chef-owner Julien Royer is finalising his menu for Odette At Home – “mainly things to share but with the spirit of Odette and a homely feel.”
He decided not to shut down completely so that “we can keep our entire dream team with us, to limit the loss of closing the restaurant for a full month, and also to avoid breaking the chain of supply we took years to build up. So we just have to try something.”
The key operative word now is ‘comfort’ as chefs look not so much to impress with cooking technique but to bring warmth and cheer to people feeling out of sorts in this trying time.
For Rishi Naleendra of Cloudstreet and the one-starred Cheek bistro, “I don’t want to bring a fine dining flair to (the takeaway food),” he says of his takeaway menu that features Cheek’s fine-casual favourites such as lamb ribs, fish and chips, or duck and waffles.
He had briefly considered a takeaway version of his fine dining restaurant Cloudstreet, but decided against it because of its fundamental premise as a dining experience and unique branding that would have been hard to capture in a packaged meal. But fans might still be able to order Cloudstreet’s famous bread from Cheek’s menu which is the epitome of comfort food for Chef Naleendra.
“It translates really well at home – there’s the element of sharing and familiarity yet it’s not something you can make yourself. It’s not like ordering pasta or pizza. And the ingredients aren’t what you can get in a supermarket.”
But it doesn’t mean that Cloudstreet will be closing for the month. Instead, fans who have been waiting for his new Sri Lankan restaurant Kotuwa to open will get a sneak peek when the chef launches its menu for takeaway from Cloudstreet.
Sri Lankan food isn’t easily available, so this is likely to be a hot ticket especially when each dish is priced at S$10 and under. Hoppers, rotti, sambols and curries will be on the menu, celebrating Chef Naleendra’s heritage in all its glory.
Going back to his heritage was also what inspired Sun Kim to create a takeaway menu comprising home-style Korean food instead of the contemporary cooking he’s known for at his Michelin-starred restaurant Meta.
Even before the lockdown, he was doing a steady business with his S$45 takeaway sets featuring japchae or sautéed glass noodles, kimchi jiggae (kimchi soup), potato salad and a version of his signature cabbage chawanmushi with a green pea and lime topping.
“In the restaurant we top it with uni,” says Chef Sun. He even included his own version of the trending Dalgona coffee drink with pannacotta instead of milk.
Of his menu, he says, “I wanted to cook something hearty and also give people a taste of home-cooked Korean food.” Now that dining-in is not allowed, he’s thinking of expanding his menu to incorporate more of his restaurant dishes.
Fine dining at home
With just about every restaurant converting to takeaway, you’ll need some tips on how to make the food look presentable at home if you don’t want to be eating out of plastic boxes for the rest of the month. It doesn’t have to be complicated either, says photographer and food stylist John Heng, who used some simple tricks to make the takeaway menus of Cheek, Meta and Beppe Comfort Food ( an upcoming takeaway/delivery concept by Beppe De Vito of the ilLido Group) look like something you would eat in a restaurant.
The easiest is to use coloured plates to add an instant lift to the dishes. To match Cheek’s casual fare like fish and chips, burrata salad with heirloom tomatoes, plate them on rustic crockery to set the mood. Deep bowls, small ones and textured plates also help to provide interest. If you’re just using white plates, then keep the arrangement tight in the centre for contrast.
Instead of devouring Meta’s slippery glass noodle saute right out of the box, plate portions in a small mound on a larger plate. Chawanmushi can be unmoulded with the topping on the side, for example.
Pasta, which tends to arrive in clumps, can be untangled with a bit of olive oil or even steamed lightly to loosen the strands. Portion them into little bowls to look like canapes for a bit of fun.
“Having a home garden supply of fresh herbs is very useful,” says Mr Heng. “Chop up some chives or parsley and sprinkle them on pasta. Or you can also twirl the pasta into a circle or a tube shape and set it in the middle of a plate.”
With every setback comes potential opportunity and Beppe De Vito is planning to launch a digital restaurant, delivery-only concept at the end of the month. With Art, Aura and Braci closed for the month, and only Amo offering takeaway food, Beppe Home Comfort will focus on Chef De Vito’s classic Italian dishes from pastas to braised dishes.
Restaurants like Naked Finn, Ki-sho and Buona Terra are taking advantage of their spacious surroundings to start their own drive-thru service where you can literally drive in and have your food put in your car without you having to get out of the driver’s seat. “You just need to call and text your order, make your payment wirelessly, drive through and our staff will load the food into your car for you,” says Naked Finn’s Tan Ken Loon, whose restaurant in located in Gillman Barracks. It’s the same for Japanese restaurant Ki-Sho and the Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Buona Terra which are housed in a colonial bungalow with a spacious driveway in Scotts Road.
A new mindset
For sure, switching to takeaway requires a different mindset for chefs used to creating and plating plates individually and challenging themselves to achieve new culinary highs. “It does take the whole purpose away for me,” concedes Chef Naleendra. “I didn’t start this career because I just like cooking. What I really love is restaurants.”
But for now, restaurants are purely in survival mode now. Takeaway won’t compensate for the loss in revenue but every little bit helps. “We adapt and change. It’s the nature of what we do. As chefs we’ve always been in situations where we need to think fast. We will still use the time to experiment (in Cloudstreet). So when we reopen we will have a strong comeback.”
How do real people create the fine dining experience at home?
For one used to lunching at hawker centres five days a week and spending weekends exploring fine and other dining options, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant a severe change in diet and lifestyle for architect Edmund Ng, who runs his eponymous design firm.
For him, fine dining restaurants are all about “hospitality, ambience, service, visually appealing food, and of course, taste”. And with plating being part of that experience, all that pretty much goes out the window when your haute cuisine arrives via delivery.
Still, with a bit of effort and things you already have on hand, it’s easy to dress up a takeaway meal at home. Mr Ng set about re-plating the one Michelin starred Vianney Massot Restaurant’s takeaway L’Agneau de lait – roasted leg of milk-fed Pyrenees lamb (S$200++) which comes on a bed of rice pilaf with assorted bread rolls.
“I used a wooden board to present the lamb, and decorated it with fresh cherry tomatoes and rosemary that I had at home. I served the rice and sauce on another wooden board with the asparagus that came with the meal and added some sliced avocado. “As for the bread, I arranged the croissants and baby baguettes with butter and fresh figs and used a gold leaf plate for decoration.” When it’s time to eat, each person has his own wooden platter with a long ceramic dish holding slices of lamb, a mound of pilaf and a garnish of tomatoes, roast garlic and rosemary.” For some extra flair, “use scented candles for a candle light dinner, and add some music” and you’ll have an intimate fine dining meal without leaving your home.
Order Vianney Massot’s roast lamb at 6909-6360
Sometimes, a simple replating is all you need to freshen up a gourmet takeaway, says Florence Low, founder of LuxLexicon, the largest reseller of luxury Birkin bags. For her takeaway order from one Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Buona Terra, a potentially fiddly duo-coloured linguine pasta with squid ink sauce and tomato is cleverly plated with the blank inky sauce surrounding the mound of tomato pasta. “I sauteed the pasta to revive it,” says the food lover who used to dine out twice a week and entertains at home regularly. But these days, eating in is the norm. “My husband loves having barbecue and sukiyaki at home, while I prefer making simple one dish meals like pasta or baked casseroles.”
While she usually eschews boring looking takeaways, Buona Terra packs its meal components so meticulously that it’s easily assembled to look presentable. An octopus salad of greens and potatoes looks perfect in a deep bowl, while the main course of quail, dry figs, salsify and licorice shine on a white plate with its golden sauce as a contrast. Add your own charcuterie platter and the meal is complete.
“The right table setting, food plating and a good bottle of wine or champagne can make a huge difference in jazzing up takeaway food, so it’s almost as pleasurable as a fine dining restaurant.” And the bonus is that you don’t have to get into your car to get home after that.
Buona Terra offers a drive-through takeaway service and home delivery. Call 67330209 or 94563147 for details.
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This article was originally published in The Business Times.