Seven weeks into confinement and the rumblings from the restaurant sector are growing louder. Some owners believe they could reopen at limited capacity with new screens, booths and other means of keeping seated people separate and safe. Lobby group Hospitality Ulster believes measures can be taken, which, once risk-assessed by medical and environmental experts, could see an initial pilot test of some restaurants and cafes this summer.
ut the real issue may be with the public and how confident they feel about going out again. A recent poll by the Fight Back campaign (@fightbackni on Twitter) shows that most people in the north are happy to stick out confinement for "as long as it takes". But only 39% say they would feel safe about going into a newly reopened restaurant which had put in measures to comply with social distancing requirements.
In the meantime, restaurants are testing all sorts of survival tactics: click and collect, deliveries, food kits and even delicate cocktails are now becoming the norm as restaurant owners who had never seen a Deliveroo rider up close before now, scramble to get back to their customers.
Receiving a meal from a favourite restaurant, rather than a conventional takeaway, is a bit like receiving a food parcel from an exotic source. I remember my mum in Armagh in the Sixties receiving a parcel twice a year from my granny in France. The parcel was a heavenly thing, a window into a luxe life of chocolate, saucisson, foie gras and, best of all, cans of pork cassoulet. These parcels were so precious, she would minutely ration the contents to last for weeks.
When I collected a tomahawk steak from Hadskis with all the accompanying bits and pieces, bearnaise and peppercorn sauces, partially roast potatoes, tray of young root vegetables and more, I brought the package into the house as I might have carried in one of those rare parcels.
The instructions to complete the partially cooked meal (timings for whatever way you want the huge tomahawk done as well as for every other component) were followed to the letter and soon the house filled with the odours of Hadskis. And this was the most magical part of the experience. The echoes of the restaurant itself, the patter of the busy servers, the mood of the dining room as it gets louder and more raucous as the evening wears on, the shouts from the grill as chefs call for service, began to filter into our kitchen. This is why the restaurant carry-out as opposed to the conventional takeaway has a different resonance.
Of course, the meal itself (one tomahawk is plenty for two people) was a wonder. I might have added a few more minutes than suggested in the instructions for each item, but still, it was a wonderful moment. Hadskis does the steak as well as a full three-course menu for only £24 per person and a Sunday roast.
The collection service (Thursday to Sunday), by the way, is exemplary in that the social distancing requirements are clearly explained on signs and blackboards with no room for confusion or uncertainty. (Politely ask if they will do a ratatouille tarte - not on the menu but sensational and worth trying!).
The Bangkok Thai in Adelaide Street is another restaurant whose atmosphere and mood are unmistakeable. The Thai welcome is clearly authentic and the Thai attention to detail, that mix of unconnected elements creating a convincingly complete finish is addictive, exciting and to my mind remains as exotic as it gets.
To the uninitiated, Thai all seems a bit bish bash bosh as it's so fresh and zingy. But it is deceptive, complex and very subtle, something with which Bangkok Thai has adapted its menu for collection and delivery. One stand-out not to be missed is the massaman curry which I love with their fried rice.
Because of the vegetarian in the house, the good news is that all the dishes on the menu can be vegetarianised. Nobody gets left behind.
Hadskis at home, Donegall Street, Belfast, Email email@example.com, www.cookinbelfast.co.uk
Hadskis Tomahawk steak for 2 with all trimmings £45
Bangkok Thai 51 Adelaide Street, Belfast Tel: 028 9099 1814
Bangkok Thai dinner for 4 £78