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Until restaurants reopen, here’s how to recreate the dining experience at home, from takeouts to tableware

From dressing the table to choosing the perfect menu, staying in can be the new going out 

Eva Waite-Taylor
Friday 15 January 2021 13:24 GMT
The average Brit eats out 63 times a year, so you’re likely yearning for a special ambience
The average Brit eats out 63 times a year, so you’re likely yearning for a special ambience (iStock)

With lockdown 3.0 fully underway, you may be starting to miss the heyday of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme – the government initiative that ran throughout August that gave everyone in the UK 50 per cent off when dining out – or are just simply mourning taking a trip to your favourite restaurant at the weekend. 

According to research by CGA, the average Brit used to eat out 63 times a year, so it’s really no surprise that you might be missing the dining out experience. 

But foodies and restaurant lovers alike need not worry. There are many aspects of the dining experience that you can easily replicate at home – you just need a number of essentials in order to do so.

From dressing the table like a pro and creating the perfect ambience, to choosing the menu and drinks, follow these tips to take your dinnertime up a notch – and prepare to have a memorable experience with your household.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Dressing the table

In a bid to recreate the experience of eating out, make sure you set the table in advance – start by adding a pop of colour. Instantly revamp your set-up by investing in this Wes gingham frill tablecloth (Projektityyny, £180), which took the top spot in our guide to the best linen table cloths

(Projektityyny)

Crafted from textured linen, it’s the perfect year-round addition to your home. “The 20cm frill is just the icing on the proverbial cake,” praised our writer. It’s available in both circular and rectangular (Projektityyny, £255) designs depending on your table. 

As for placemats, we’d opt for something minimal like this ProCook cotton placemat (ProCook, £4) to allow the tablecloth do the talking. 

(ProCook)

Featuring in our review of the best placemats, our writed noted that “having cream placemats is like playing with fire – undoubtedly attracting bolognese sauce, red wine and ketchup within seconds of any meal beginning – but the good news is that these are easily wiped clean”.

For a more pocket-friendly tablecloth, try this H&M washed linen offering (H&M, £34.99), which is available in both khaki and light pink – both of which will go with most interiors. 

(H&M)

“It’s finished with double stitched edges but otherwise is completely plain for you to layer with patterned plates and placemats,” noted our reviewer. 

The plain design means it lends itself well to maximalist additions to the setting. For example, we’d suggest adding a pop of colour with these William Morris strawberry thief placemats (Pimpernel, £25.50), which also featured in our review of the best placemats

(Pimpernel)

As one of Morris’s most famous patterns, the design is printed on the board and sealed with a stain and heat resistant coating, all mounted on a durable cork base. Wipe clean carefully and you can cherish these forever. 

Tableware

With your table dressed, it’s time to turn your attention to tableware, putting your best porcelain forward to create that restaurant-quality dining experience. We love this Denby studio grey four piece medium coupe dinner plate set (Denby, £60), which was crowned our IndyBest best buy in our guide to the best dinner plates.  

(Denby)

“The plates are hand-crafted using Denby’s locally sourced clay, and as they are safe to use in the oven, dishwasher, microwave and even the freezer, they’re as tough and durable as they are immediately attractive,” said our reviewer. They added that the “specked glaze effect over the warm mid-grey” gives the perfect mix of “craft-driven and finely finished tableware”.  

If your local restaurant has a more playful approach that you want to recreate at home, it’s got to be these Sophie Conran hydrangea leaf plates (Sophie Conran, £90), which tap perfectly into the bold botanicals trend that is big news in tableware. 

(Sophie Conran)

“Made from fine stoneware, they feature a crackle glaze in the richest emerald green with realistic leaf vein detailing. Pretty and practical, these are both dishwasher and microwave safe,” said our tester in our review of the best dinner plates

As for cutlery, if you’ve not updated your set in a while we’d advise turning to this Robert Welch honeybourne bright cutlery set (Robert Welch, £135), because you know you’ll be getting top quality from a brand that’s been supplying hotels and restaurants for more than 60 years. 

(Robert Welch)

“This decorative set offers the highest quality 18/10 stainless steel and features an arresting hammered finish on the rounded handles,” said our tester in our guide to the best cutlery sets. They praised them for being perfectly balanced in weight and a joy to use. 

Don’t stop there – give your glassware a high-end update too. In our review of the best tumblers these Rockett St George rose pink and gold water glasses (Rockett St George, £32.50) caught our eye.

(Rocket St George)

“Rose gold has been a firm homeware trend for some time now and it looks set to continue. Pretty in pink, this dainty set is finished with a gold colour rim, which gives it a slightly vintage nod,” wrote our reviewer. Rockett St George also has a huge range of similarly quirky pieces, making it the perfect destination if you’re looking for an eclectic range of homeware for your at-home restaurant experience. 

As for another high-end dining experience essential, make sure you’ve got wine glasses fit for a Michelin-starred eatery. These Riedel performance riesling glasses (Riedel, £45) were a big hit in our round-up of the best wine glasses. They are from the brand’s "performance" range and have been designed to have an optical effect, which not only looks very pleasing but also increases the inner surface area, allowing you to detect more nuanced aromas from your wine. 

(Riedel)

“With a wide, stable base, long, elegant stem and lightweight bowl, we were surprised to learn these can be popped in the dishwasher. For those that love their wine, there really is no other choice,” praised our writer. 

Ambience

With your table dressed, another thing we love about going to a restaurant is the ambience – the cosy lighting and gentle buzz of music. Candles are a must, and we’re obsessed with these swirl candles (Edition 94, £6.50). 

(Edition 94)

You’ll likely have seen these scattered across your social media feed, and for good reason too. With a range of colours on offer, there’s sure to be one to suit your at-home restaurant aesthetic. 

Similarly, adjust your lighting with this Philips hue white and colour ambience starter kit (Amazon, £152.95), which took the top spot in our guide to the best smart lights

(Philips Hue)

The colour of the bulbs can be changed in order to illuminate a room in different colours or adapt to different situations – for an evening in, we’d suggest a warm glow. 

Consider making a playlist using one these music streaming services – if it were us, we’d use Spotify (free, or £9.99 per month) and opt for one of the pre-made options, making sure it’s long enough to last the whole meal. 

Alternatively, to really up the ante, we’d recommend streaming this cosy New York restaurant ambience video to your television. 

(Immerse in Nature)

With three hours of gentle jazz music and rain, as well as the perfect mood lighting, it’ll transport you out of the here and now and into that fancy restaurant you’ve been pining for.   

Plan the menu

Table and ambience sorted, it’s time to consider the most important element of the evening: the menu. It goes without saying that one of the main reasons we love dining out is the quality of food. 

The hospitality industry has been one of the worst affected by the national lockdowns, with both small and big businesses alike facing difficult times ahead. 

When recreating that restaurant experience at home, you can support your local eateries in the form of DIY meal kits. While not quite the same as having someone cook it for you, we think they will do the job nicely. 

Whether you’re attempting Veganuary, are a seasoned plant-based eater or just fancy dipping your toes into meat-free food, Hoppers’s vegan meal kit for two (Hoppers, £25) came highly commended in our guide to the best vegan restaurant meal kits

Straight from the London hotspot, according to our writer this kit has it all: "Sri Lankan jaffna mix and vegetable rolls to snack on while prepping your meal, a moreish breadfruit curry for main and the restaurant’s signature string hoppers (a sort of Sri Lankan crepe) to mop it all up with”.

(Hoppers)

Don’t miss out on the optional extras on the Hoppers online shop, Cash & Kari, where you can add pre-mixed cocktails and beers.  

For the meat-eaters, try burger restaurant Patty & Bun’s lockdown DIY patty kit (Patty & Bun, £25), which featured in our round-up of the DIY meal kits to know

(Patty & Bun)

While not exactly high-end, it is a delicious weekend treat and comes with four of the restaurant’s signature beef patties, bacon, brioche buns, a squeezy bottle of smokey mayo, cheese slices and homemade pickled and smokey onions. All you need to buy is lettuce and tomato to finish it off.

If you’ve had enough of cooking and really want to get that restaurant feeling, take a look at our guide to the fine dining restaurants that are delivering throughout lockdown. Innovative restaurant Six By Nico launched its Home by Nico series during the first lockdown, which is available for nationwide delivery. 

(Six By Nico)

Suitable for two people, it costs £60 for four courses, including a starter, main dish, two side dishes, cheese course and dessert, as well as a bottle of wine to pair. There’s a vegetarian option too.  

Drinks

And last but not least, a trip to a restaurant simply is not complete without a drink. Luckily, you can recreate your own happy hour at home. 

The World of Zing prosecco cocktail collection (World of Zing, £17.95) landed the top spot in our review of the best letterbox cocktails. Our tester noted that the brand is “consistently recognised [for] some of the best bottled creations out there". 

This is the one for those who are partial to bellini or spritz style cocktails, with the box comprising a 200ml bottle of DOCG prosecco and three imaginative handmade spritzes to liven things up. 

(World of Zing)

Expect a Bordeaux cask-aged negroni like no other, a zingy passionfruit spritz with Grand Marnier to take the edge off, and a grown-up grapefruit and thyme spritz that gives the run-of-the-mill Aperol a new lease of life. 

Fans of a G&T should try this Slingsby London dry gin (Spirit of Harrogate, £39.99), which featured in our round-up of the best British gin brands. This award-winning Yorkshire spirit opens with a thwack of sweet lemon, backed up with notes of grapefruit and just a hint of liquorice, leading to a smooth, herbaceous finish. 

(Slinsgby)

“Versatile and consistently good, this is a must-have for any drinks cabinet, whether you drink yours with tonic or in cocktails,” said our writer. 

But, if of course, it’s a trusty glass of vino you’re after, turn to our guide to the best malbec wines, in which the Zuccardi los olivos 2018 (Taurus Wines, £10.99) came out trumps.  

(Zuccardi)

“Made from grapes harvested by hand and aged in oak for six months, it benefits from big, on-the-tongue flavours of damson and blackberry along with notes of pepper and spice,” noted our reviewer. It’s best enjoyed with grilled red meat, so would pair nicely with the Patty & Bun’s lockdown DIY patty kit (Patty & Bun, £25). 

Alternatively, if you don’t drink, there’s an abundance of alcohol-free spirits on offer, such as this Stryyk not vodka (Master of Malter, £17.75) which featured in our review of the best. Our writer noted that while vodka is tricky to replicate, “Stryyk – makers also of a non-alcoholic rum and gin – has got pretty darn close”.

(Stryyk)

With “warming capsicum, and cooling cucumber and menthol, there’s a fresh, grassy hit, and a delicate apple finish”, it sounds delicious. 

Missing trips to the pub? Read our guide to creating the ultimate at-home bar 

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