The recent explosion of restaurant takeaways reveals that the lockdown's whole new world of eat-at-home experiences looks likely to become a permanent fixture. Long after the restrictive, damaging and depressing Covid-19 days become a memory, the green shoots of the takeaway economy will have taken hold and blossomed into an entirely new sector, the restaurant-at-home.
hree-course dinner kits, pre-mixed cocktails and paired wines are taking food lovers to new heights in their own kitchens and dining rooms. Whether this has a lasting impact on the numbers who actually go out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner remains to be seen. You can never replicate the joy and sense of occasion of a busy restaurant and that ambience and magic will keep us coming back for ever. In his book on the history of restaurants, William Sitwell shows us that we have enjoyed eating out for thousands of years, so it's hardly likely that we will forsake this habit in favour of takeaways just yet (although takeaways from Pompeiian restaurants were already a thing 2000 years ago).
Nonetheless, when the takeaways are as good as many of those I have enjoyed in recent months, there is little doubt that they are here to stay.
The latest discoveries in our house have come from Finegan & Son in Newry and Belfast's Roam Pop-Up. Both are similar in their approaches with high-quality ingredients in attractive packaging (the boxes and tubs within the main delivery cartons are as compelling and as full of mystery as the first moments of Christmas morning) and simple, well spelled out instructions.
Finegan & Son's offer included a spectrum of thigh-slapping delights from a Killowen gin cocktail through to a hipster-tickling coffee from Honduras. In between the two are scallop and lobster croquettes with a wasabi, grapefruit, cucumber and tomato salsa, a hunk of Mourne lamb rump with truffle potato gratin, peas and calva nero and some very well judged jus, Mossfield organic Gouda with crackers and a chocolate fondant tart with gooseberry compote and crème fraiche.
Everything about the Finegan takeaway worked well including timings. Quality and invention in the summer truffle potato gratin and the top class fondant tart were a real demonstration of talent. The fact that you can keep the whole lot for a couple of days in the fridge meant we were able to spread the joy over the weekend.
From the house of Roam Pop-Up came a not dissimilar menu including Kilkeel prawns in a katsu curry followed by lamb, dukkah roasted carrots and a velvety carrot mousseline, a small selection of cheese and prosciutto(!) and a very sinful chocolate mousse with orange jelly. The langoustine curry was as fine as it was exciting. Fresh and raw, the prawns were baked for a few minutes while the curry sauce was heated and prepared to be sprinkled over with puffed wild rice and black sesame seeds. The flavours reminded me of Robbie Millar's legendary and unforgettable lobster curry.
Adding glamour to the lamb and carrots was a mysterious black garlic emulsion.
What is significant about both Finegan's and Roam Pop-Up's dinners is the care and attention to detail. Countless little sealed pots containing just the right amount of spices, herbs, butter and other supporting artists added luxury and a sense of occasion. These are not just home dinners, these are proper, cheffy culinary moments where every ingredient and each appearance of the smallest accoutrement matters.
Ryan Jenkins, the force of nature behind Roam Pop-Up is full of survival ideas. His pop-ups have been a feature of Belfast for some time now and his next big thing is a contest with fellow pop-up artist, Alan Higginson at GaGa. The twin pop-off is due in the next few days in Panama in Belfast's McClintock Street and should be a must-attend.
Graeme Finegan's place in Newry is a beautifully airy restaurant where vegans and veggies are as well looked after. I'll never forget the jackfruit bao I had there last year.
Both deserve your support not just for now, but into the sunlit uplands of a post-Covid future!
Roam Pop Up £25pp
Finegan & Son £40pp