It's amazing how people adapt to new circumstances. In post-Batista Cuba, citizens no longer able to import cars from the US prolonged the life of existing Lincolns, Fords and Buicks by fitting Lada engines; during the Troubles, businesses here were up and running minutes after town-centre bomb explosions with fire and smoke damage sales; and when the BSE crisis crippled GB's export markets, a lot of mid-Antrim farmers boldly rebranded their meat Irish.
Now in Covid-strangling 2020, restaurants and cafes have transformed themselves. Whereas before they were geared up to welcome you in, to make you comfortable, provide great food, drink and craic they have very quickly realigned themselves to specialist catering and distribution companies creating idiot-proof dinner kits for the great untrained public. (As it happens, I am a five-star idiot as I managed to screw up the easiest component of a three-course dinner last week and burned the garlic bread).
The logistics involved in this exercise cannot be underestimated. Containers and tubs for starters and mains, liquid-safe cartons, plastic holders and square miles of plastic sheeting for vacuum packed goods, are a concern to anyone with even the vaguest sense of the environmental impact of this packaging. Nonetheless, it is essential to the survival of these restaurants and the byzantine systems they have put in place to make sure I get my mushroom risotto and not somebody else's lasagne.
And then there are the instructions. There must be a secret school of instructional English somewhere because all the kits I've prepared and where I've followed the script to the letter have worked out perfectly well. I only burned the toast because I forgot about it while I was paying attention to the hard bits.
So far, Danny Millar of Stock Home wins the best instructions award for having the fewest of them. Three courses involving duck pot stickers, dipping sauce, cod saltimbocca with a yang selection of pumpkin, kale and other smugly wholesome vegetables and a yin of devilish roast potatoes, and all I had to do was follow two lines of guidance, make sure the oven was at 200C and the plates were warming.
Danny makes similar YouTube instructional videos to Andy Rea of Mourne Seafood Bar just in case you are a complete numbskull ... and as I fit this category I watch these. There's nothing quite as good as seeing somebody else do something and then trying to imitate it. Much easier than reading off a sheet of paper which is barely legible after half an hour in the chaotic kitchen languishing beneath a mid-preparation mess of melting butter, spilled flour, finely chopped onions and cold custard.
The thing with Danny's kits is that they really are all pre-prepared and just require heating up. This is ideal and the result is bomb proof. The pot stickers, rich, crispy little dumplings, four each just need 10 minutes in the oven and the accompanying slaw with Asian dressing (featuring a lot of pungent fish sauce) is further enhanced with a dipping sauce for the stickers.
The cod saltimbocca are beautifully wrapped in sage leaves and parma ham and come out beautifully moist and firm after 12 minutes (Danny suggests anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes) and the ready-roasted spuds just need a blast to get their crunchiness back.
Some will prefer more engagement and more actual cooking but frankly, if your aim is for a Saturday night restaurant-at-home replication, with more time spent at the dinner table rather than timing a series of meal components which requires constant attention and to-ing and fro-ing from the kitchen, Stock Home is your man.
But like all these kits, the ultimate satisfaction comes from the fact that the ingredients are top quality (probably much better than what you are I are able to access because of the long term relationships with suppliers) and the fact that you are lending support to a sector which we badly want to survive until we're all able to get out again.
Imagine Covid coming to an end and there being no restaurants left to go to. Eat in to help out, I say.
Three course dinner for two: from £50