Gemima Cody on why we will always need restaurants

Legendary French-born, Paul Bocuse-trained chef Philippe Mouchel outside his CBD restaurant.
Legendary French-born, Paul Bocuse-trained chef Philippe Mouchel outside his CBD restaurant.  Photo: Joe Armao

We can't go back to restaurants for a few weeks yet. Some are saying that even when we can, it won't be the same. That we won't be able to afford it, or we'll be too scared to go.

But history has shown what survivors restaurants are. Even during the Great Depression, restaurants lived on. There might have been fewer at the pointy end but across cities in America penny restaurants were born in droves – places where the working class could get cheap meals (subsidised by philanthropists) as an alternative to the bread line.

The truth is, we don't just love restaurants, we need them. Of course we'll go back. 

The pate en croute is a work of art.
The pate en croute is a work of art.  Photo: Joe Armao

In the first instance, we just cannot do what restaurants do. It's very sweet, the way we've been romancing our kitchens, but hopefully it has demonstrated just how much blood, sweat and tears go into making our food.

A few weeks ago, I cooked part of a tasting menu from contemporary star Greasy Zoe's to prove the hours, the mind-blowing processes it takes to bring the smallest of 'bites' to life. I got halfway through the five courses of prep. It took a week.

But let's go further down that path, away from the dainty to the classics, to dishes like cassoulet that may well be classed as comfort food, and certainly don't photograph well, but which, done properly are a job best outsourced to a professional unless you are a wunderkind, or mad.

Lyonnaise fish quenelle.
Lyonnaise fish quenelle. Photo: Joe Armao

That professional should probably be Melbourne's legendary French-born, Paul Bocuse-trained chef Philippe Mouchel. He has recently returned to the fray with a takeout menu you can happily file under "don't try this at home".

There are masterpieces like a pâté en croute: a terrine, in this case pork, chicken and creamy foie gras, captured inside an intricately decorative pastry frame. The patchwork of meats are each cooked precisely, with a perfectly clarified jelly edging it in. Countered by a few brightly coloured pickles, it's as much an artwork as a dish.

Mouchel's cassoulet is a three-day process involving sausage-making, braising duck in its own fat and making a pork bone stock from scratch.

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Or there is a Lyonnaise fish quenelle, an ethereal fish mousse, textured with a choux base (a flour, fat and water mix) so that it can be moulded into its namesake conical shape. Even re-invigorated in my dodgy home oven, the result is a fluffy pescatarian cloud, and drenched in an intense crustacean sauce, it's a piece of history and a lifetime of knowledge on a plate.

Surely that body of knowledge is something we'll always fight to keep alive?

That knowledge extends beyond the kitchen. Plenty of sommeliers have been offering matched wines to drink at home, but their work goes beyond having an encyclopaedic knowledge of grapes.

Can you really beat the signature ramen from Hakata Gensuke?
Can you really beat the signature ramen from Hakata Gensuke? Photo: Anu Kumar

Jane Lopes, the former wine director of Attica says "we're not just about curating and serving wine. Our main job is engaging to find the perfect wine for their personality, tastes, occasion and budget."

These are things we can't get at home. Even with lowered budgets, I think this will draw us out of our homes. Even for things we can cook at home, the reality is we just won't want to. Have you tried to cook fried chicken? Or a burger? How about ramen? A DIY lifestyle is doable, but is it ideal?

Chef Casey Wall, whose fried chicken nights at Rockwell and Sons (RIP) gave many diners reason to look forward to Wednesdays, concedes that while he learnt to make the dish from family members who shallow fried the bird in their kitchens, he says "cooking in large amounts of oil over an unregulated heat source is a recipe for disaster". It's a dish that takes over the kitchen and lingers long after your fingers are licked clean. Why not outsource the destruction to the likes of Belles Hot Chicken?

Good Food columnist Adam Liaw echoes the same sentiments about ramen, saying he's never seen so many cooking it at home. This in spite of the three-four days it takes for pork bones to yield their life force to the glistening, sticky tonkotsu broth.

That we're trying to cook these things is joyful. But how long until it compares to the rich umami-ful bowls of shiny liquor at Hakata Gensuke, where those pots are almost never off the boil? Who among us truly has the time?

Who knows what the new restaurant world will look like on the other side? But what is certain is that we love and need our restaurants as much as they need us.

Until we eat again:

Philippe Restaurant

Order classics from the master of old school like Lyonaisse fish quenelles, steak with sauces days in the making, or the pâté en croute with pickles. Pick up or delivery.

115 Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 8394 6625, philipperestaurant.com.au

Hakata Gensuke

Good Food contributor Adam Liaw can teach you to make ramen if you have four days to spare, or get the Hakata magic to your door (with "godfire" chilli oil if you want to see your maker) in 20 minutes.

168 Russell Street, Melbourne, 03 9663 6342, gensuke.com.au