Almost-ready meals become permanent fixture for Sydney restaurant scene

Myffy Rigby
Chef and owner Keita Abe of Chaco Ramen prepares takeaway food.
Chef and owner Keita Abe of Chaco Ramen prepares takeaway food. Photo: Christopher Pearce

What started as a way for restaurateurs to keep employees working when lockdown was implemented in March has now become an essential part of the dining conversation for many Sydneysiders, providing a service many people didn't realise they needed until they had it. Suddenly, parents of young children weren't having to rush home to babysitters. The time-poor people across the board, in fact, suddenly found they could up their dining-in game without having to change out of their loungewear. 

It's a divisive subject in the restaurant community. Because, really, a chef wants you to eat their food in the setting for which it was designed - not out of little containers (the landfill!) on the lounge bingeing Love Life.

Maurice Terzini

Maurice Terzini believes dining out, not in, is paramount. Photo: Janie Barrett

Bondi-based restaurateur Maurice Terzini (Icebergs, Cicciabella) believes the take-home meal option has been a solid alternative revenue stream for many restaurants, "as long as the message doesn't distract from core business". For Terzini, dining out, not in, is paramount. "A meal in a restaurant has far more impact," he says. "The social role restaurants play is very important. It doesn't taste like this at home."

Some chefs and food producers kept people in work running collaborations. Vic's Meats and Victor Churchill owner-butcher Anthony Puharich works with hatted chefs across Sydney to create the Vic's Meat Pie of the Week, most recently including two hat restaurant LuMi. They're consistently sold out.

Josh Niland

Chef Josh Niland will continue his take-home meals even after restrictions lift. Photo: Rob Palmer

Josh Niland, executive owner-chef of Good Food Guide-award winning restaurant Saint Peter, ran a series of collaborations during lock down with leading Sydney chefs including Sean Moran and Mitch Orr. He says he'll definitely continue his take home meals post-restrictions easing. "Our take-home meal kits proved to be a really essential part of our business over the past months. It has now been integrated into Fish Butchery, where we will continue to offer these kits as Fish Butchery at Home. I feel it's important that moving forward we have a number of business models that go beyond dining in a restaurant." 
 

GOODFOOD: Takeaway & Fancy Ramen at Chaco Ramen in Darlinghurst in Sydney on 02/07/2020 (Photo Christopher Pearce/SMH)

Ready-to-go ramen from Chaco Ramen in Darlinghurst. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Chaco Ramen's Keita Abe managed to turn his ramen - originally a weekday lunch special at his yakitori bar - into a dedicated restaurant. And during lock down took it one step further, offering take-home meal kits, and a delivery service, delivering across Sydney. On an extremely busy day, Chaco Ramen might do 150 bowls of soup noodles. But the almost-ready meals mean he can sell as many as he can make. He said it was this service that saved his business. The noodle kits proved so popular, they're now stocked in the chiller section at Haymarket IGA.   

Nick Smith, the man behind Newtown cafe-restaurant Rising Sun Workshop, has embraced take-home meals as a larger part of his business. "We're pretty committed to it and actually going further, I would like to offer other restaurants an opportunity for us to develop home meals on their behalf, and look to produce and distribute those. I think it's a really exciting new space."