The breadth of choice of takeaways now available is astounding. Last week, those salty dogs in Kilkeel-based Sea Source sent me a box of super fresh fish, squid, scallops and whelks. It was like opening a window into the chilly depths of the Irish Sea.
My cooking skills are shameful and appalling and fish is among the hardest of foods to get right. But with the help of some instructions included in the box, I was able to surprise the family (they were frankly astonished) with a curried monkfish, a Mediterranean style hake and a breakfast of plaice.
The whelks were another matter. One day you will be old enough and brave enough to tackle a Kilkeel whelk. They are the size of Carl Frampton's fists and just as enticing. But I'm told they are marvellous for the complexion, libido and eyesight. Still, I'd rather abandon all three than have to eat one of those again. That fish is world class, though, and I've seen none fresher.
At the other end of the food service spectrum is the collection operation now being run by executive chef Chris Fearon at Deane's at Queens in south Belfast. No whelks here. Rather, a cool crab starter with gazpacho, followed by a chateaubriand filet with potato terrine and maple roast root vegetables. Dessert was a chocolate truffle raspberry ruffle (I bet Chris did this just for the rhyme). And there's a bottle of that lovely Deano's table wine in there too.
It all comes elegantly presented in a quality cardboard box which you collect at the door of the restaurant. Here you will be greeted by a reassuring approach system, clearly marked out on the ground, before reaching the most adept social distancing experts fully protected with visors, masks and gloves. If you got the virus, you didn't catch it here.
The attention to detail is extraordinary. Chefs like him, Pearson Morris at Noble and David Gillmore at James Street are clearly endowed with mysterious powers. They can extract flavours from the same ingredients which I never could imagine existed. One of the joys of getting these posh takeaways is the little insight they provide into those professional skills.
The Portavogie white crab is a dish I'd just do with a little creme fraiche and seasoning. The Fearon approach includes that with citrus salad, avocado, little cubes of watermelon and gazpacho. Achieving the balance of flavours and tones - the tomato in the gazpacho and the salty crab are an amazing pairing - requires skills I don't have.
The chateaubriand filet is another masterpiece. Here is a large and generous piece of meat which has undergone some preliminaries. It has been subjected to generous seasoning and then a short spell on a charcoal grill. The idea is to warm your oven to 180c and pop it in while you enjoy that starter. 25-30 minutes are recommended for a pink finish. My oven is probably over active and 29 minutes would have done. Nonetheless, the filet is veal-like in its paleness and depth of flavour, tender as a peach under the knife and just joyful in the mouth. The attention to detail means there is even a tub of tarragon and garlic butter to be added to melt on top as the filet rests.
The potatoes are creamy, almost vanilla-like and hugely comforting. Again the texture and flavour are something entirely new to my kitchen (apart from when the advisor cooks, naturally) and all the more delightful for it.
The root veg are intense and equally rich and offer a well-placed sweetness to the dinner.
The truffle ruffle just needs to be left at room temperature for an hour before eating. I have a nice piece of Compte so we have that as we wait. The tangy raspberry infused coconut base hits against the smooth chocolate mousse very effectively, cleansing the palate while providing indulgence simultaneously.
Life in confinement is almost bearable when Sea Source comes knocking and Chris Fearon does the cooking.
Deanes at Queen's Dinner for two - £60
Sea Source fish and seafood range - From £3.50 for 100g cooked crab meat