t fell silent in mid-March. From our bedroom window we can hear the restaurant next door. The chatter of chefs in the kitchen, the teenage staff on their smoking break, the hum of the extractor fan, the smell of potatoes roasting on a Sunday. But for the last three months, nothing.
Three days ago, the familiar sounds returned. But despite sleeping less than 10 feet from the restaurant, getting a table for Saturday night was like getting a Glastonbury ticket.
Given the stringent new rules in place to ensure 甲子园的奇迹Covid security, there is no such thing as “squeezing you in” these days. Not only are the tables much further apart, booking slots no longer operate like a revolving door – filling tables as soon as they are cleared. Instead customers were sat in three fixed sittings, giving ample time for cleaning between dinners.
As we had made a reservation beforehand there was no need to give over our names and contact details when we arrived (they already had them on file), which reduced the chance of spending the entire dinner dreaming of an ominous phone call from an NHS Test and Trace call centre in seven days: “Sorry, that dinner cost you ?40 and entry into the Covid-19 raffle”.
But we shouldn’t have worried; the spectre of coronavirus followed us everywhere. The restaurant had been decked out in stylish screen partitions between all the tables – although this did make me feel slightly reassured, it did reduce the ability to eavesdrop on other diners; obviously one of the biggest perks of eating out, along with not having to do the washing up.
The staff were chatty and welcoming but a little on edge. They said they were excited to be back – as a family-owned business that had just expanded pre-pandemic, it’s an understatement to say the last few months have been financially tricky – but the atmosphere was one of nervousness, navigating uncharted waters while trying to be as hospitable as possible.
The chance to eatfood not prepared by myself or my partner was joyful (I don’t want to see a tin of chopped tomatoes that I need to make edible ever again), to eat ingredients I don’t even know how to cook, to have restaurant quantities of salt and butter that I cannot see being added during the cooking, and to drink wine from a menu rather than the Co-op reduced aisle. We even got extra truffle fries – why not, it’s been three months?
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There were a few strange moments; like the waitress repeating herself as the face mask muffled her words, or watching as our menus were taken away and placed in quarantine for cleaning.
Of course eating in a restaurant is an easier corona-adaptation than going to the pub because you’re already getting table service in most places and you stay with your household group. We didn’t use the toilets (our bathroom is literally the other side of the wall so we could wait).
But it will take a while to get used to – not least remembering what is restaurant-appropriate conversation after months of only having ourselves to talk to – but also the feeling that simply by being out, enjoying yourself, you are taking a risk. Not just for yourself but for everyone else. Even for those who don’t have the choice to do things like go out to a restaurant and continue to stay at home to protect themselves.
After two courses we had had enough of the brave new world. We skipped dessert and got the bill (paid contactlessly, of course).