As we start to return to restaurants for in-house dining, there is a new normal … This week, Jeremy Ryland offers a fictional scenario on how the restaurant dining experience may play out in the post-COVID environment, and how a review might read …
La Restora is located in a shopping strip, a short walk from our home office in the suburbs. We have no need to go into the city any more. Outside, there is a wide awning, with hanging plants, to protect us as we wait in designated spots for our allotted time.
The young girl at the door welcomes us with a warm smile and checks our reservation. We fill out the guest register, so we can be traced if need be, and are offered hand sanitiser. Our temperature check shows that we are cool to go in.
The host guides us into the dining room. We walk past the bar, once a showcase of wine and exotic cocktails, now covered in takeout containers as a staging area for the Deliveroo takeaways. The long communal feasting table in the middle has gone – replaced with tables for 2 or 4. The tables are set out with plenty of space, permitting at least 1.5m between guests. The new restrictions permit up to 50 guests, but at La Restora, the 4sqm rule caps this at 36. I count 22 other guests spread out across the room.
The empty tables are all plain. No glassware. No cutlery or napkins. In a show of conspicuous hygiene, our host sprays the table with sanitiser and wipes it down. “Please, be seated. Your waiter will be with you soon”.
Chef Antoine is working in the open kitchen. He gives us a wave. The new distancing and safety rules advise him to stay in the kitchen, but he can see us over the pass. He smiles but looks tired and older. He has to work harder now with less staff to help him in the kitchen.
The leather-bound menu has been replaced with a blackboard. Some places have single-use disposable “table mat” menus. Others are using electronic menus sent to your iPhone. Some are even using Japanese-style food displays – making it easier to see what you are getting. The blackboard menu is shorter than in the past. This makes it easier for the kitchen, helps to manage costs and supply, and reduces the risk of cross-contamination.
We order a bottle of red wine. Our waiter pours the wine at the end of the table from where we take our glass. Water is served in individual bottles to maintain safety. Water jugs, condiments and bread baskets are no longer in vogue.
The scallops Lyonnaise have been crossed off. The seafood delivery was short this morning – some produce is still in short supply. There is an excellent house-made terrine, coarse and textural with a superb short hot-water pastry, served with local pickles and house-baked fresh baguette.
Our meal is brought to us quickly. Less orders, means less delays. The cutlery is individually wrapped in a small bag. Salt and pepper is provided in a small single–serve cruet. The service is warm, friendly and accommodating, but the staff do not hover over the tables and stand back a little. When clearing away the plates, they wear disposable gloves. La Restora has, however, not insisted on face masks.
Main courses include a traditional cassoulet – white beans with duck offcuts and Toulouse sausage. It is rich, meaty and full of flavour with a firm breadcrumb crust. A tender filet mignon is served with creamy Paris mash and a rich red wine jus. A side salad of crisp shaved fennel and celery on rocket with thyme, parsley, lemon and olive oil is simple but delicious.
Sadly, Chef Antoine’s celebrated sharing platters have gone. So has the cheese trolley and the dessert selection that were passed along the long communal feasting table. This makes the conviviality a little less vibrant but at least we can have a conversation and be heard. The atmosphere is quiet and reflective, lifted with soft jazz music.
Our 75-minute dining allotment is nearing time up. We dare not linger, so ask for our dessert to be packed for takeout. We pay the bill by contactless card payment and exit past the queue of guests waiting outside for their time slot.
Sanitisation/distancing protocols 4
Total - 15.5/20
PSST: In the mornings, La Restora offers great coffee and house-baked goods to takeaway from a small servery window.
The place, names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this review are fictitious. They are simply designed to highlight possible post-COVID experiences. Any resemblance to actual places, persons (living or dead) or events is purely coincidental.
Restaurant life has returned – but not quite normal. There are changes that require guests to be patient and understanding. Don’t blame the restaurant for the new restrictions. Honour bookings or cancel if you cannot go. Arrive on time and leave when you are done, to let others enjoy the space. Treat the staff with the generosity and respect they deserve. Be patient. And enjoy.
Social distancing is still key. But that doesn’t mean we cannot appreciate the conviviality of a great meal.
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By Jeremy Ryland
Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash