Top restaurants are now doing takeaway, but do they deliver on taste?

Victor Liong of Lee Ho Fook is offering takeaway and opening up the cellar.
Victor Liong of Lee Ho Fook is offering takeaway and opening up the cellar.  Photo: Justin McManus

Greetings, fellow inmates. Welcome to eating in captivity, week one. What are you wearing? I bet you look great.

With restaurants now closed except for takeaway – preferably contactless at that – we have entered a topsy-turvy world where home delivery, the enemy that has been slowly choking the hospitality industry, has become the only way that shuttered restaurants can survive.

No, that's not great. But it's time to look for silver linings. Restaurateurs who have chosen to push on are doing so to keep people employed, and that deserves support. And for those who have decided to shutter and wait it out, they should be comforted knowing that we are all about to truly understand what a world without real-life restaurants and their curated spaces and human touch is really like. Ouch. 

For now, we can still be glass-half-full-of-proper-negroni optimistic about the situation. You have an unfathomable fantasy football league of chefs and restaurants at your disposal. The chance to eat from World's 50 Best regular, Attica, on your couch. Cocktails dropped at your door by the country's top bars. But you also, on a more affordable and realistic level for those suddenly trapped with their children around the home office water cooler, have great chefs bringing the basics to cater your apocalypse.

There are some caveats to this new reality. Restaurants have turned into delivery services on the fly. Be patient. Online payment systems are still being created. You might have to get properly old-school and pick up the phone. And the breadth of options is staggering. I waded in and was knocked off my feet, so while I was going to start with shiny Attica, I decided to stay local – you should, too.

Joseph Vargetto from Mister Bianco in Kew is delivering pasta in a red Mini. 
For Sofia Levin story for Good Food 31/3/20

Joe Vargetto from Mister Bianco in Kew is delivering pasta in a red Mini. Photo: Supplied

My first order was from Joe Vargetto of Mister Bianco in Kew. We email back and forth to arrange a drop (he's since got a website up). Part of his new service, called "The Italian Job", involves him driving bulk Italian staples such as whole lasagnes, fresh sauces and pastas, and good stock right to your door in a bright red Mini. Like many Italian restaurants, he is playing backup sous chef for your kitchen, rather than trying to replace a single a la carte restaurant meal on demand.

The hand-off feels surreal. Me in workout gear at our garage, he in chef whites with crates in arms. The world is weighted so much in diners' favour right now. But the reminder is there too: "This helps." It helps me too. I haven't needed to cook three meals a day while also working for years. Have you?

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This food is impeccable. The lasagne arrives straight from the oven and has a seemingly equal ratio of pasta to fresh mozzarella so it's a full facial workout of stretch and chew. The dark and properly bitter-sweet tiramisu has the a la minute quality you don't get with most products built for the take-home meal game.

Want something more lavish? Other restaurants, such as Victor Liong's new-style Chinese restaurant Lee Ho Fook, are cooking their regular menu for you to take home. By day three, when I'd bored myself to death on my pastas and soups, a crisp-skinned half duck with that lightly fermented plum sauce, a bowl of sticky, fiery dan dan noodles and the electric crunch of Chinese broccoli  and shiitake mushrooms is an explosive circuit-breaker.

The Age, News, 26/03/2020  picture Justin McManus.
Lee Ho Fook resturant is doing takeaway.
Victor Liong with takeaway food and wine.
Dan dan noodles.

Fiery dan dan noodles are available to take away from Lee Ho Fook in the CBD. Photo: Justin McManus.

Better still, because liquor laws have softened to allow restaurants to sell off some of their cellar, Liong chooses a bottle of Xavier Goodridge Pa Pa pinot noir for me. If you're feeling particularly good, you could slip out of your activewear and into a magnum of Agrapart champagne from him for $140.

Truthfully, aside from suffering through your own piteous plating and service, you can't lose as a diner. Use your advantage for good. Some restaurants, for convenience, have caved and partnered with delivery apps that will take a big chunk of commission. Flicking open UberEats, it's strange to see Marion, Cumulus Inc and Supernormal billed next to McDonald's, seeing New England lobster rolls, the famous fluffy cod roe dip and Supernormal's ramen jostling with burritos and Big Macs.

The Age, News, 26/03/2020  picture Justin McManus.
Lee Ho Fook resturant is doing takeaway.
Victor Liong with takeaway food and wine.
Congee with century egg.

Lee Ho Fook's congee with century egg. Photo: Justin McManus

But hot tip: there's nothing to stop you ordering direct from the restaurant, then picking it up yourself, or, if you're quarantined, using a taxi like a courier, which would barely cost more than a delivery app if you're ordering local, and both parties get their full pay.

Your dollars and cents matter more than ever. They also have an unprecedented power to decide who makes it to the other side. It might seem beyond extravagant to be buying food from restaurants right now, but if you were already eating out and are lucky enough to still have a job, think how much quicker we will all bounce back if we can keep the wolves from a few more doors? 

Open a map, seek your neighbour. How often do you get to feel like a superhero just by eating gloriously without even putting on pants? 

Mister Bianco

Address 285 High Street, Kew, misterbianco.com.au 

Open Daily noon-8pm.

Cost Pasta $16-$19, mains $23, tiramisu (for two) $12. Free delivery or pick up. 

Lee Ho Fook

Address 11-15 Duckboard Place, Melbourne, 03 9077 6261, leehofook.com.autakeaway@leehofook.com.au

Open Daily noon-2pm, 5-7pm.

Cost Half duck $24, dan dan noodles $15, congee $12. Pick up or arrange your own courier.