Eat in: Take 3 by PS, Philippa Sibley's at-home dining program

Philippa Sibley is one of Melbourne's best all-round chefs.
Philippa Sibley is one of Melbourne's best all-round chefs. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Buff your shoes and pull out your book of emergency conversation starters, because restaurants are reopening at 11.59pm on Tuesday and it's going to be a wonderful, socially awkward thing.

Restaurateurs have spent the past fortnight planning, measuring car parks, swearing, ordering, rehiring staff and warming up those dormant muscles. Some venues, such as the legendary Supper Club, are planning to open at the stroke of midnight when we are finally released, welcoming regulars back for a celebratory champagne and seafood session. We are almost there. Better times lie ahead.

But some good things will be left behind us as well. Plenty of us are jonesing to get back into spectacular spaces and see what creative outdoor dining solutions have been imagined. But removing bricks-and-mortar restaurants for a time also shone a light on their challenges.

Pumpkin, spinach and feta pie with yellow squash and cabbage salad.
Pumpkin, spinach and feta pie with yellow squash and cabbage salad.  Photo: Chris Hopkins

Food writer Alice Zaslavsky​ has faced an uphill battle for years trying to lure her parents to restaurants in the city, no matter how appealing the carrot. In lockdown, she was finally able to introduce them to chef Philippe Mouchel's refined French, and they are now monthly subscribers.

And that's not an uncommon story. The most common complaint about restaurants is not about prices or the food, but about noise levels, or ease of access for those with physical challenges. Top restaurants offering at-home feasts blew open many a universe and while some will stick with it, last time dine-in trade returned, a drop in orders quickly made it uneconomic.

Chefs who were forced to go it alone during lockdown got online and showed us their food, their way, and delivered some of the best dishes of the year.

Chicken cacciatore, the way you wish you could cook it.
Chicken cacciatore, the way you wish you could cook it.  Photo: Chris Hopkins

As we move forward, it's important we remember the independent chefs who will continue to need support, and diners for whom eating out isn't easy. With that in mind, it seemed right to look at Take 3 by PS, the at-home dining experience provided by Philippa Sibley, which furnishes you with three dinners and three of her incredible desserts for $100 a head.

Sibley's history as the pastry chef of Est Est Est (RIP) and fateful appearance on MasterChef with her Snickers dessert, has often seen her pigeonholed as Melbourne's queen of desserts. But she is one of our best all-round chefs.

Sibley's food is probably best described as the way dishes are meant to be but rarely are. Her signatures include soups, salads, and sorbets – things that seem simple on the surface but catch you off guard with their depth, like stepping into a puddle and finding yourself submerged in a lake.

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It can be hard to keep track of where Sibley is cooking, but her followers know she's always worth seeking out. As we speak, she is resuming her role cooking at the European for Con Christopoulos but, for now, you can also have her catering your week, and you should grab that opportunity while you can.

There's no menu, and no dietary variations. Sign up for one of the 40 spaces a week, pick up all your dishes on the Tuesday and let the good times roll.

This isn't bells and whistles Sibley; it is a menu absolutely geared for half a week of eating like you wish you could cook.

Pecan pie with whipped cream.
Pecan pie with whipped cream. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Day one is soup and bread, which in Sibley's hands is something to get your heart racing. A clover leaf clutch of her milk buns go in the oven to warm while you heat up a broth laden with black beans, tubettes of pasta and pork and fennel meatballs for substance, adding blanched spring green beans and zucchini for crunch and a swirl of fresh pesto – the secret sauce that makes it pop.

Night two it's a flaky, buttery pastry parcel wrapping a salty, sweet and hefty heart of sweet pumpkin, spinach and feta. To the side is a salad of cabbage and squash shaved razor-thin and lifted by a sharp dressing studded with currants.

Last: chicken cacciatore, with some tomatoes whole and blistered for acid blasts, and others having melded with the chicken fat into a softer thing, and green olives landing the dish in grounded territory.

Which dessert? It's up to you to mix and match, but you can't lose and you probably can't act responsibly. The caramel in a pecan pie is almost gelatinous for the greatest contrast between the crunchy nuts and fresh cream; a mixed berry trifle has strata of clearly defined flavours and textures, and a slice of almost black chocolate torte with mottled white and dark chocolate cream is a testament to Sibley's accurate eye.

What I love most about this at-home situation? Sibley loves it. And that factor cannot be underestimated.

We have all been through a lot these past months, but both chefs and diners have found some quieter, calmer and more direct ways of connecting.

With restaurants closed, some of the barriers between us came down. Some of them should stay that way, even as we run back.

The lowdown

Order via take3.ps@iinet.net.au. Pick-up is from 107 Cambridge Street, Collingwood, Tuesdays. Delivery available within 5km.

Cost: $100 a head for three dinners and three desserts.

Pro tip: Can't get an order? Find Philippa Sibley cooking at the European, 161 Spring Street, Melbourne.