When we think of Chinese food, it’s probably fair to say that many of us…
Physical distancing has played havoc with Canberra’s love affair with eating out.
At first, the city’s best restaurants found their doors suddenly closed due to COVID-19, and now they have been opened just a little—but with strict restrictions making it nigh on impossible to book a table some nights.
So the best alternative is to order up big from your favourite fine-diner—and get it delivered to your door.
That’s exactly what HerCanberra did when we had our post-lock down reunion dinner last weekend.
There were seven of us keen to catch up over a meal. But instead of one of us (me) slaving over a hot stove all day, we placed an order for the Dinner Party Experience with Canberra Eats.
We’ve been using the Canberra Eats service fairly frequently during the global pandemic. Hospitality veteran Chris Hansen pulled the business together immediately after the crisis began as a way of keeping the city’s restaurants afloat through having their food delivered. He also threw a lifeline to suddenly unemployed restaurant staff by hiring them as delivery drivers.
The business not only took off in Canberra but is now operating in Sydney with Harbourside Eats.
A few weeks ago, the business model extended into offering to cater to dinner parties. Five fine diners are available to choose from—Ondine, La Cantina, Monster, Pialligo Estate and Temporada. They offer multi-course menus, with wine options—from a minimum of $55 per head from La Cantina to a minimum of $70 a head from Monster for a minimum of six diners.
You can then choose to add-on the experience of having wait-staff accompany the food to your house and serve it up for $50 per half hour. And for a really special night, you can also request to have a chef or even a sommelier.
We decided we were in for a penny, in for a pound. We booked the menu from Temporada at $66 a head and on Saturday I slept in—safe in the knowledge that at 8 pm our dining table would be groaning under the weight of beautiful food.
No shopping. No cooking. And very little cleaning up afterwards, to be precise.
We booked online the week before and I even had a Saturday afternoon nap there was so little to do in preparation. That night, the hungry team lobbed on the doorstep at 7.30 and at 8 pm on the dot, Fergus and Lucy arrived.
There may have been squealing at the front door because, honestly, it’s been so long since anyone came into my house and also, they were carrying box loads of food.
While we all sank back onto the lounges and Sarah made us all a Corona-Time Cocktail, Fergus got to work heating up some sweet corn and smoked mozzarella croquettes.
Lucy passed them around and I felt quite like royalty to be waited on in my own home.
Fergus was ducking and weaving around my kitchen like nobody’s business and soon the aroma of wood-fired octopus with black vinegar, chilli oil and aioli was wafting overhead.
It was time to sit at the dining table. Out came a succession of dishes that reminded us all of why we love Temporada in the first place.
The octopus and burrata with quince, vadouvan and curry leaf was followed by a slow-cooked lamb shoulder with Moroccan eggplant and spiced yoghurt, wood-grilled broccolini, garlic and anchovy sauce and a spectacularly rich mac ‘n cheese with mushrooms, which could have made a meal in itself.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the evening was not only catching up on months’ worth of conversation in the flesh but in having Fergus come around with a platter of food and explain the provenance of ingredients and how it was prepared.
We could ask him anything and hear a qualified and internationally-experienced chef give us the inside tip.
Every time we turned around, Lucy was there to top up our glasses and the conversation flowed non-stop as no one had to lift a finger. Especially not me.
We were stuffed to overflowing, but somehow found room for the most beautiful dessert of white chocolate mousse with strawberry (both fresh and dehydrated) and almond praline.
And while we scoffed it, Fergus and Lucy packed away the dishes and dealt with all the (biodegradable) boxes and bags the food came in. Lucy was also extremely keen to pack the dishwasher but we’d forgotten to empty it before she arrived, so dishes were scraped and stacked, ready to go. We’ll be better prepared next time.
We bid our efficient and friendly staff goodnight and stayed at the table as the night progressed wondering how we could all somehow afford to hire a permanent live-in chef at some stage in our lives. Oh to be Oprah. But yet, here we were, enjoying such luxury for one night at least.
Having all experienced a range of home-delivery meals during COVID, we agreed that the dinner party experience was set apart because the food was partially cooked at home, making it fresher and hotter than the usual delivery service. And while we may all consider our plating skills worthy, Fergus really showed us how it was done.
It certainly was a step up from the pumpkin soup, and chorizo and halloumi wraps I had originally intended to cook for the night. I am already planning another booking next month for my birthday. After all, it was the best dinner party I haven’t had to throw.
Click here to view the Canberra Eats Dinner Party Experience menus.
Feature image: Frederick McGrath Weber