YOU MAY never dine out again. A new gourmet takeaway food service that promises Michelin-quality food delivered to your door is to be launched in Edinburgh.
The service, which currently operates in London and Brighton and counts Stephen Fry and Lily Allen among its fans, employs professional chefs who cook a range of dishes in their own kitchens before delivering them to customers in their local area. Options include French, Japanese, Asian fusion and Cuban delicacies from three-course menus with haute cuisine starters and sumptuous desserts.
However, critics of the scheme say it could damage the city’s restaurant scene, which has been hit by a number of high-profile closures in the past year, including Andrew Radford’s Atrium and Blue, and David Ramsden’s Seadogs.
Simon Prockter, chief executive of Housebites, which runs the service, said: “Edinburgh is the Brighton of the north and it’s a great place for people sharing ideas. If they like something they tell people about it. It makes good sense to launch here as it’s a very foodie city with a lot of people who are very interested in food. What we aim to provide is the takeaway service that people should have had a long time ago.”
Prockter said he hoped to have the service running in Edinburgh by September. “We will be looking to take on around 30 chefs in Edinburgh initially. So it’s equivalent to having 30 pizza parlours in the city, except the quality of the food will be much higher.”
The chefs are all evaluated by the firm as well as undergoing rigorous health and safety inspections before being allowed to cook for the public in their own homes. They then devise their own menus, post them online, and allow customers to order from the website. Food is delivered by a courier service. Prockter, who also plans to launch the service in Manchester later this year, added that he hoped eventually to extend the service to other Scottish cities including Glasgow.
“It’s a huge city and also very keen on its food so it’s somewhere we would look to expand to in the future.”
However, not everyone was convinced of the service’s potential for success in Edinburgh.
Food writer Jonathan Trew said: “When it comes to takeaway food people expect certain things – they expect pizza, Chinese, Indian – those are what we think of when they think about takeaway foods. A lot of the time restaurant food isn’t something people want to eat as a takeaway, and unless it is significantly cheaper than eating in a restaurant it will put people off.”
He added: “There are of course some advantages to eating at home, you can drink your own wine, there will be a few people who would want to do it for a dinner party, but I suspect if people wanted to eat something that was cooked by a professional chef they would either go and eat at their neighbourhood bistro or pick up a chef cooked ready meal from a local deli that they can reheat at home.”
Malcolm Duck, chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association, said the move could pose another challenge to the city’s beleaguered restaurant industry.
“It’s yet another thing that makes it difficult for restaurants because they undercut on price because they don’t have to pay costs or rates. It takes away from those of us who are trying to work as an industry. But all is fair in love and war.”
He also questioned whether it would be popular among Edinburghers. “Restaurants have tried this before and it has not worked. And if the chefs are cooking in their own homes, would you want a meal cooked from someone else’s house? I would get slightly worried by the health and hygiene issues.”
However the firm said it provided a unique opportunity to chefs who don’t want to work in restaurant kitchens.
“We give professional chefs a chance to work from their own homes without any set-up fee,” said Prockter. “Chefs chop and change jobs a lot and many of them relish an opportunity like this as it gives them the chance to devise their own menus.”
The company insists that all chefs pass the requisite health and safety inspections before being allowed to cook in their home kitchens. However Trew also questioned whether gourmet food would travel well as a takeaway item.
“The food we more traditionally associate with takeaways, pizza, Chinese and Indian for example, lend themselves well to being takeaway foods. Because of the way they’re cooked they can be packaged and delivered in a reasonable condition. Other foods, particularly gourmet food, doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to that.”
In 2009 I Eat Naked, a gourmet delivery service providing restaurant quality meals was launched in Edinburgh, but has since ceased operation.
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