While it is possible to get good food delivered or to take away, nothing beats the feeling of dining out among friends in a good restaurant
Five weeks have passed since lockdown began and my addiction to restaurants shows no signs of loosening its grip. I am still captivated by the need to sit down with the adviser in the warm glow of a city centre bistro, sipping sidecars while going through the menu and the wine list.
I miss the gentle knockabout conversations of some of the servers and managers, people like Barry Fletcher in Muddler's Club, Saul McConnell in Noble, and Alain Kerloc'h in Ox. Paul in Deane's and the other Paul in James Street have that golden touch too, the confident welcome, the look-you-in-the-eye smile and the few words which build excitement and anticipation. Words like, "Dover sole just in", and "we have held over the last 1000g tomahawk in case you wanted to order it".
These, and many like them, are the pulsating heart of the hospitality business. No wonder Churchill said the best dinner companion was a good maitre d'.
I also miss seeing others who enjoy a restaurant lunch or dinner and whose faces have become familiar over the years. We all share that desire to sit down in a pleasantly lit and comfortable restaurant and have food and drink brought to us. Anyone who says food is just fuel can't possibly have spent any time in a restaurant. Food is the bond which helps tie us together.
We all know and argue about what makes a quality champ, a good ribeye, the best chowder. It's a subject we love, even if sometimes we aren't aware of just how captivated we are by it. Food is a distinctive topic and one on which most of us have opinions. Just look at how busy the social media platforms are with people showing us how to cook things.
And talking of cooking (I shudder at the thought), next week I aim to start looking at the new wonder of dinner kits as first seen created by Noble in Holywood. Hadski's in Belfast are now producing three-course dinners which just require you to finish and complete them in the house. This approach preserves texture and flavour and also allows the individual to claim a certain amount of ownership of chef Niall McKenna's talents. Dinner becomes a joint venture between you and some of the best chefs in the land.
Let's not rush into anything just yet, however. This week I have taken the easier option of arranging a collection of pizzas and ice cream respectively from Reggie's on University Road and Al Gelato on the Ormeau Road, for a family night in Italy.
The daughters had raved about Reggie's for some time. The field of artisan pizzerias is competitive. In Belfast alone you've got Pizza Boutique, Honest Pizza, Belfast Woodfired Pizza and a few more. In Derry/Londonderry, Nonna's is a knockout, by the way.
Reggie's Stonefired Pizzas stands out thanks to the quality of ingredients and the fact that they do the kind of salads which have been tried and tested by the great PizzaExpress chain. Caesar, Greek, goat's cheese salads are fresh, crunchy in the right places and with vinaigrettes which are well judged.
We didn't try the pasta dishes (they have all the classics including spaghetti carbonara and Bolognese, lasagne, penne arrabiatta etc) but if they're as good as their pizzas they may be worth a rattle. I say this only because it would never occur to me otherwise to order pasta dishes which frankly I can make at home despite my limited abilities.
A thin crispy base with a bit of burnt blistering here and there makes it for me. The tomato sauce and mozzarella are good quality and the anchovies and olives well balanced. Anyone who includes a Hawaiian on their menu is to be commended.
Al Gelato ice creams continue to dominate the south Belfast scene during lockdown now that Ali McAuley is delivering. The dark chocolate sorbet and salted caramel and vanilla stand shoulder to shoulder with the best Italy's got. Seriously.
Reggie's Wood fired pizzas, 1 University Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9543 3239
Sicilian pizza £10
Margherita w/ham & mushrooms £10
Al Gelato, 397A Ormeau Road, Belfast Tel: 028 9064 2075
Al Gelato dark chocolate 12oz £6
Al Gelato lemon sorbet 12oz £6