Welcome back, friends and followers! What a strange and surreal time it has been these few months, hasn’t it? I wish for you all that you’ve come out of this with your health as well as your jobs, and I extend my compassion and empathy for those that haven’t sailed through this period so easily: I understand more than you know (and more than is appropriate to discuss here). For the foodies among us, the struggle has also been real: in the most challenging of times, haven’t we all been accustomed to turning to a trusted friend and setting the world right over a fantastic meal at a new restaurant, or perhaps one where everybody knows your name? To not have had this outlet in such a trying time has only intensified the struggle… so what a relief it was when July 4th arrived, and we could all return to our favourite establishments!
Firstly, let us spare a thought for the special places which have not survived the pandemic. Some major establishments have closed their doors definitively, and the culinary world is all the worse for it. Texture, which I’ve written about, is one such loss and will be sorely missed. Let’s also spare a moment of thanks to those restaurants that kept us going in such trying times by offering a delivery service and/or keeping us fed by temporarily transforming into a grocer/deli shop. One such example is Taverna Trastevere, from where I purchased my lemons imported from Amalfi to make the best lemon risotto I’ve had outside of Capri. These months would have been so much more difficult without such establishments, and I extend my gratitude to them all.
But finally, July 4th arrived, and it was now a day of British freedom, no longer reserved just for the Americans. Freedom to eat food that we did not have to slave over and cook ourselves; freedom to enjoy cuisines that are beyond the limits of our cooking skills; freedom to eat with friends rather than alone in our kitchens; freedom to enjoy a dining experience without the worry of washing the dishes! Oh the joy!
On the morning of the 4th, I was delighted to be the first customer at the best local breakfast/brunch spot in the area and support one of my local favourites: Cafe Tamra. They were unable to do business during the lockdown (no delivery either), so after so many months, to have what is arguably the best flat white coffee in London gave me such pleasure that it was as if every molecule in my body did a little leap for joy! They have made adjustments to account for the pandemic: sanitising gel is available, and menus have been replaced with disposable paper versions.
And, of course, social distancing measures were in place, as tables were spaced out far more than before the pandemic. Here is a before-and-after comparison:
But rest assured, their dishes are as much of a treat for both the eyes and the taste buds as they have always been:
Since the 4th of July, I have also been to a few other of my favourite establishments, all of which are abiding by the social distancing rules. In addition, some like Made In Italy , are adopting new technology such as QR codes that can be scanned with your smartphone’s camera to bring up the menu on your mobile: no need to provide tangible menus – paper or otherwise.
I for one am very pleased to see many of these changes – predominantly those regarding social distancing. Pandemic or not, the tendency for establishments to seat people so closely together has always made me uncomfortable: I like my personal space, and I would prefer not to have strangers listening to my private conversations with friends, which is inevitable if they are practically sitting on my lap. And of course, it reduces the need for people to shout over each other, reducing the feeling that you are dining in a school cafeteria, after which you leave with a headache. As far as the concerns around the pandemic, I feel entirely comfortable with the present measures in place…
But for those of you wanting more, you’d have been appreciative of the measures I observed in Italy during my short escape to Rome last week. Every restaurant abided by social distancing rules, yes, but all establishments took my full name and contact details for contact tracing, and bars or drinking establishments required everyone to complete a self-declaration form confirming you do not have any Covid-19 symptoms, as well as the requirement to provide your contact details. If you are dining outside and need to go in to use the facilities, you will not be allowed entry without a mask.
Overall, Italy has far more severe restrictions in place: no shop will let you in without a mask, most places take your temperature upon entry, and the general approach in public is a much more cautious one. Without getting into a highly contested debate, while I embrace social distancing in restaurants and will gladly sign self-declaration forms, when it comes to the general management of things I personally prefer the London approach- but that’s more reflective of my personal assessment of the risk and my personal comfort with it (I have had risks to my life during this lockdown, but Covid was not one of them, so I have a unique perspective)…
In conclusion, restaurants are back, I am returning with my restaurant reviews, and you can expect my usual posts to resume now. Long live the restaurant, tourism and hospitality industry! If you are in a position to do so, do go and enjoy what’s on offer: not only to enjoy these much missed life pleasures, but to support your favourite businesses who have struggled to pull through these months as much as we all have. As we say in Italy, buon appetito!