There are a couple of problems with that. I certainly can’t remember the last time I ate in a fine dining restaurant and watched delivery drivers pop in and out with thermal bags as they headed for their mopeds. It’s also a little difficult getting the full culinary experience when something that a meal designer (yes, there really are people with such jobs) has spent months sweating over is transferred into a plastic microwaveable tub.
Stac Polly in Dublin Street is a long-established Scottish restaurant, which has managed to keep going, offering what they like to call a Seasonal Delivery menu (sounds so much better than a social distance menu). The menu is available online, and you then order by phone and set a delivery time that suits.
Delivery slots are available between 5pm – 9pm (£2 fee for delivery) and the driver observes all social distance protocols for dropping off your food. After ordering, I did think to ring back and ask if I should have the oven warmed up before the food arrived. But I was told that everything comes in a microwavable container. That’s how they plan to do things for the duration – as people can then put dishes in the freezer. In fact, if you order multiple courses in order to freeze some, they even offer discounts.
I went for the rabbit and prune terrine (£7) and the thought of it had my mouth watering before I even phoned to order. However, what arrived wasn’t exactly as described. The terrine was still too cold when we served and it most certainly did not contain prunes. Rather it had sharp and piquant cranberries that overwhelmed the rabbit and put, literally, a sour note on the dish. I left half of it on my plate. But when Mr Turner went back to it about 40 minutes later, it had come up to room temperature and the flavour had transformed. It didn’t magic up the taste of prunes, but it enabled the (now warmer) rabbit to better compete with the cranberries.
Mr Turner opted for the Cullen skink (£4). It was so good that he found it hard to comment – well, to say anything really – he was so busy spooning it in. It was a balanced and competent dish that warmed the heart and the stomach. We added some sourdough bread and French butter to complete the experience.
Staying with the heartwarming theme, I went for the traditional cassoulet with pork shoulder, duck leg confit, sausage and bacon in a butter bean stew (£10) with mixed seasonal vegetables (£2.50).
Cassoulet is the perfect French comfort food. Although it’s said that there are as many recipes for cassoulet as there are chefs, for me, this lacked a little of the fatty, unguent nature of a lot of cassoulets I’ve previously eaten. I like the warmth of pork belly, garlicky Toulouse sausage and a plump duck confit.
This was, if anything, a very healthy dish – with lean meat and tomatoes. The seasonal vegetable mix had boiled potatoes, green beans and (slightly over) roasted cauliflower. The beans were crisp with a vibrant crunch, but the potatoes seemed to be reheated.
The asparagus, leek, chervil and Gruyère quiche (£7) was presented a little disappointingly. A reasonable slice had been topped up with a couple of additional slivers. I wasn’t certain whether they were using up leftovers or had decided to bulk up the serving once they saw it in the container. The pastry – which looked like a decent homemade shortcrust – had become a little flabby in the box. The filling was just a bit bland; delicate, but lacking in punch.
It would take a great deal more than a national lockdown to prevent Mr Turner getting his cheese fix, and he was delighted to find that a selection of six cheeses from George Mewes was available (£8). Cheddar, Camembert, blue cheese and goat’s cheese came with a tangy chutney and lots of mini oatcakes. Obviously, he would have preferred someone to talk him through all the cheeses – or to have a small description available on the online menu – but he Hoovered them all up nonetheless.
It wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had – but in these extraordinary times, it was a wonderful change and Stac Polly are to be applauded for carrying on. Although, I have to say that the maitre d’ wasn’t up to much...