This article should have been my last review of the year. It was going to be a glowing dissection of Rohit Ghai’s Manthan – or “a wonder”, as I called it. But you’ll have to wait until the new year to read that. As Covid cases are on the rise and Omicron sweeps the nation it seems we are all either in isolation with the virus itself, or in a self-imposed lockdown in the hopes of desperately scraping by until Christmas. It’s like some high-stakes game of hurdles, hoping that you won’t be tripped up at the last one before the turkey.
However, this comes with another problem; the hospitality industry. Continuously scapegoated by the government throughout the pandemic, hospitality has been beaten down time and time again. First you could only dine outdoors, then you could come inside but only with six of you, for a time all restrictions were lifted altogether, and then you could only go to a restaurant with your household, you definitely couldn’t order at the bar, oh and you had to have a “substantial meal” with your drink (because carbohydrates are the biggest deterrent to this worldwide virus, apparently). Once again restaurants, bars and pubs across the nation are missing out on one of the most profitable months of the year, and losing precious, necessary income just as they were starting to build back up.
If you’re in a position to do so, then the most obvious way to help out is to go and drink or dine out – spend your money where you can at the places that have managed to stay open. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for many right now. Whether you’ve been struck down with Covid yourself, or are simply holing up at home so you can safely see family on Christmas Day, it’s still possible to support restaurants during this hideous time.
Restaurant kits are perhaps the most obvious solution; the saviour of lockdowns past, I did truly hope I would never again have to wrangle multiple transparent pouches while trying to whip up a Michelin-starred meal, but here we are. Dishpatch is the obvious first port of call, serving finish-at-home meals from the likes of Cafe Murano, El Pastor, Gunpowder and Ixta Belfrage (former Ottolenghi Test Kitchen powerhouse and co-author of Ottolenghi Flavour). They even have a number of specially designed menus to help you see in the new year (I will be truly joyous to say goodbye to 2022, and will be doing so with a pint of champagne in hand). Another one-stop-shop is Big Night, which allows you to bring classics like Bocca di Lupo and Homeslice into your kitchen. Elsewhere, Dishoom’s home meal kit is wildly easy and features the house black daal, which I would happily eat until the end of my days, Made in Oldstead lets you dine at one of the country’s best restaurants while wearing trackies, Hawksmoor at Home allows you to tuck into a juicy steak from the couch and Rick Stein’s at Home offering brings a slice of Cornwall to the kitchen.
Hampers are another great option to support businesses. Truly one of life’s greatest deliveries, they are a double whammy of being both a great last-minute gift and also an amazing way to stock up your cupboards and fridge with suitably indulgent treats over the festive period. Panzer’s is a London icon, full of incredible goodies and some of the best smoked salmon around, and also one of the few places I would move out of east London for (oh, to be walking distance from those bagels). They have a range of options including a breakfast box that looks like the dream way to start any day. Rick Stein hits the mark again with a range of hampers that include everything from confectionary to champagne. The Newt in Somerset has been on my wishlist for a while – rolling green grounds, old country house, incredible food, crackling fires, yes please – but their hampers do a good job of capturing the magic of the surrounding area, featuring local goodies and homemade treats. Quality Chop House (QCH) is not only the home of the city’s best potatoes; they also sell a couple of incredible hampers. More keen on getting involved with the aforementioned carbohydrates? They are slow cooked in duck fat and then fried until golden, so yes, you definitely do. QCH also sells a bunch of meal kits, steaks, pies and sides online. Not quite a hamper, but Hackney’s Ombra has reopened its online shop and will deliver you a whole tiramisu anywhere in the country… yes, really.
I challenged myself to branch out with my present buying this year, which means no reaching for my favourite gift: restaurant vouchers. If you need a last minute present, or simply want to treat someone you love, they are literally the most joyous thing to receive and most restaurants around the country are selling them right now. This is also a great way to invest in your future self: buying a voucher for your favourite local restaurant, pub or bar now to cash in on in the future when things have calmed down a bit. Another great option is enquiring about takeaway. Someone mentioned on Twitter the other day that they had cancelled a big friendsmas celebration at a restaurant, but had asked if they could get takeaways to ensure they still got the money from their booking. It’s little moves like this that will make the difference during this difficult time.
My personal favourite method of support is through restaurant merchandise. As dining out has become as much a cultural signifier as it is a gastronomical experience, restaurant merch has become as symbolic as major brands – restaurant tote bags are to food-obsessives what the New Yorker tote bag is to floppy-haired men in bookstores. Lucas Oakeley, senior content editor at Mob Kitchen, put together a far better round up of the coolest buys for Eater London, but a few of my favourites include the Mangal 2 “Love: Kebabs, Hate: Racism” T-shirt, Quality Chop House’s tote bags (I carry mine around very smugly, like “why yes, I do know about the capital’s best meat-focused restaurant”), Top Cuvee’s water bottle (is that wine or water in there? Who cares, the world is ending) and St John’s Fergroni T-shirt (best worn while drinking a large glass of the cocktail advertised on your chest – you can also order bottles through the online store).
It is easy to disregard hospitality as frivolous, dining out as unnecessary and grabbing a drink at the pub as a dangerous indulgence. But to some people, these activities are lifelines in hard times and for business owners these establishments are their livelihoods. Around 10 per cent of the population is employed by the hospitality and tourism industries and in 2019 hospitality made up £53.9bn of the UK economy. Until the government finally realises the industry desperately needs this support, it’s down to us as consumers to help out where we can. So buy a voucher, order a meal kit and faff about with the pouches, or simply opt for a takeaway. It’s the silly season: you deserve it, and it will be the difference between survival and closure for many business owners.
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