Many valid issues have been raised about Melbourne's proposed outdoor dining scheme, announced last week by the state government and Melbourne City Council. The weather is risky; access to pavement space is not equal for all and if we're using car parks, where will we park?
Some opinions have been raised that are not so valid. Like the one proffered last week by retired critic Stephen Downes that proper sophisticates' tastebuds wither when outdoors. Downes posited that while it is acceptable to consume sandwiches, coffee and vanilla slices outdoors, next to freeways or in country towns, "Melburnians are considerably more sophisticated. We eat out indoors to revel in flavours and textures. We don't want our coqs au vin and massaman curries to get cold and corrupted."
We can laugh (and we did) but now we've thoroughly aired the downsides, it's time to get behind an alfresco summer – because it's coming, like it or not.
First of all, as far as cold, corrupted coqs au vin go, we have just spent the past six months eating restaurant dishes not mere metres, but many kilometres from their kitchens of origin, either tipped onto plates from compostable containers or finished in pans that we have to wash.
I had to check whether the outdoor naysayers were right. Maybe there are restaurant critic secrets I hadn't been made privy to – knowledge that a dish taken outside is as undone as a maiden who hath lost her virtue.
I picked up two cooked pastas from Tipo 00 (the Little Bourke Street pasta bar whose outdoor plans are well under way) and drove them 10 minutes home. Then I ate half of my saffron spaghettini (still springy, heavily loaded with crab and interwoven with zucchini maintaining bite), and ridged rigatoni (featuring pork and fennel sausage, nicely embittered with radicchio) in my kitchen, and the rest on the footpath outside.
I'm relieved to say crossing my own threshold had little bearing on the spaghetti – which is still phenomenal eaten al gutter.
Ergo, it will be even better when we can see owner Luke Skidmore pouring a wine, even through a window, and maybe best of all when we can reclaim a spot at the bar and watch Andreas Papadakis work the magic on his marble counter.
The uphill battle faced by restaurateurs can't be minimised: they are exhausted; their savings are drained. They haven't just been "making us takeaway" while getting an easy ride on JobKeeper. Many have been feeding and paying the bills of their destitute visa holders. These are horrible conditions under which to magic up an engaging, COVID-safe dining wonderland. But they are. And it's heroic.
I'm not finished. Melbourne is one of the world's smartest eating cities. Largely because we adapt at the drop of a hat. In the past decade we had a modern food truck revolution. What began with Raph Rashid's Beatbox Kitchen and Taco Truck (which rolled out of hibernation last week) bloomed into a meals-on-wheels phenomena of prosecco vans, barbecue trucks, coffee bikes and waffle wagons. We have entire food truck parks such as Welcome to Thornbury, with live music and dogs and kids. You can have incredible food and (gasp!) fun.
This week, the Arbory Afloat team announced that they will be returning for their fifth outrageously popular year of drinking and eating on an open water Yarra barge as soon as restrictions ease. (This year, it's themed on Aussie beach houses with wicker in abundance, a rooftop pool, and packages to pretend you're at the Melbourne Cup.)
Before this becomes equally divisive on the topic of age and mobility, garden parties are posh enough for the Queen, and picnics can be more than a rug in the dirt.
Diba Beylie runs Dot Dot Dash, an events agency that would typically be creating magical spaces from thin air. She recommends picking up flowers from Glasshaus or Vasette (whose events work also dried up), and bringing a serving platter, nice cutlery, folding chairs and a table to drape in linen. Blakes Feast, a caterer she would usually employ, is even launching a picnic concierge service as soon as we can have outdoor groups of 10.
Yes, our weather is temperamental, but come rain, hail or shine Melburnians annually show up, dangerously shod and minimally dressed for the spring racing carnival, music festivals and the Night Noodle Markets. Why stop now, in a year where we've had the biggest run-up imaginable?
In cities such as New York and London, struggling restaurateurs embraced outdoor dining during their summers, finding it to be far from a magic pill. To be viable, restaurants also need indoor dining reinstated as soon as it is safe to do so. But it is something.
And as with every aspect of this pandemic, they're tackling this latest hurdle like heroes. Put the pros and cons and politics aside and surely 99 per cent of us stand united on this: we can't wait to be together again. Rain or shine. Inside or out. Bring it on.
Arbory Afloat returns late October with a beach house theme and seated packages to celebrate the spring racing carnival. arboryafloat.com.au
Picnic concierge by Blakes Feast When restrictions allow for gatherings of 10, this events company has a green light to cater picnics in the Royal Botanic Gardens. The picnic concierge can arrange pre-batched cocktails, food, furniture and clean after you leave. blakesfeast.com.au.