The posh takeaway is as much a lockdown feature now as clapping for the nurses on Thursday nights. Like their originating restaurants, some of these are better than others, with occasional highlights and darker moments. I've learned for instance that restaurant (as opposed to chipper) chips are the most reluctant travellers and are likely to suffer a complete breakdown before getting to your door.
eaders are proving to be as adaptable as the restaurants and many are saying that chips can in fact be revived if you're lucky enough to have an air fryer. Sometimes a spell in a hot oven will resuscitate the close-to-death chip, but this is not always the case.
And the more takeaways I enjoy and endure, the more a pattern emerges. At the top end of the takeaway hierarchy are food kits. The top chefs know that they cannot make a dish which was designed to travel for 10 seconds from the kitchen pass to the table, survive a three-mile jaunt in a container.
The solution is to part cook the dish and have the client finish it at home. That's fine for those confident enough to work from occasionally poorly written instructions and for those who have planned to do dinner as an activity.
But if, as one reader lamented, you were marking a special occasion, in this case a wedding anniversary, and the food kit required deep frying, boiling and a lot else besides, she might not have bothered. I'm with her on this and find myself reading very carefully between the lines on the click and collect sites before ordering.
For safety and sanity's sake, therefore, I bring to you this week experiences of two high-quality meals for which no additional activity was required. This is in a way a tribute to those takeaways who have been plugging along for all these years and who risk being overshadowed by the plight of the big restaurants, who are trying their best to keep some kind of business going.
The first one is Archana, a Dublin Road stalwart which used to be Belfast's only vegetarian restaurant until it broadened its menu in recent years. Vegetarian dishes still abound and the richness of the daal tarka's lentils and pulses, the robustness of the Bombay alu potatoes and fresh tomatoes and the earthiness of the mushroom bhaji are as powerful an incentive to stay away from the meats as they ever were.
Yet I cannot tear myself away from a decent biryani. Archana offers it with chicken tikka, lamb or prawn. This dish probably ticks all the five-a-day boxes as well as providing spicy excitement and lush flavours. Among the Balti dishes is the saag masala, where the dark spinach provides that tang and depth, sensational if you order it with lamb. The naans are among the best in Belfast.
Relative newcomer Khao Asian now replaces the venerable Randals which stood at 569 Lisburn Road for decades. The sparkling charm of Khao owner, Kate Allen, permeates everything about this little neighbourhood restaurant and its dishes.
Unusual and exciting combinations in the short takeaway menu ensure entertainment as well as some wonder. The dynamite prawns, for instance, are in fact, incendiary; not to the point of injury, but certainly enough to become a dare. Yet for all their firepower, the spicy cases do not take away from the prawns within whose texture and flavours remain beautifully intact.
Vegan "cigar rolls", slim little spring rolls are packed with all sorts of shredded colourful veg and noodles. Gyoza (vegan or chicken) are memorably deep and savoury, the dumpling case crispy and golden. One thing after another is consumed at the kitchen table and we all note that the food is hot and unscathed, showing no signs of fatigue in transit.
Khao is a revelation. Vegans, veggies and everybody else will be very happy. The only thing you'll have to resist is the temptation to order everything.
Mushroom bhaji . £4.50
Chicken pakora . £4.50
Veg pakora . £3.95
Alu chole chat . £3.95
Chicken tikka biryani . £9.95
Veg biryani . £9.95
Cigar rolls £4.50
Dynamite prawns £5.50
Pad thai noodle £9
Bang bang bowl chicken £10
Red curry with chicken £9.50