Do we go out? Do we stay in? It seems the coronacoaster isn't done rattling our teeth and terrorising the restaurant industry just yet. So for this uncertain week, I thought it best to road-test Shane Delia's new company, which allows diners to have a foot in both camps.
Providoor is, in short, home delivery by proper restaurants, designed to tackle the dual issues of soggy dumplings and third-party delivery apps that take too much commission.
Unlike traditional takeaway, where limp chips are de rigueur, you'll order an overnight, chilled delivery of dishes that you will finish yourself.
There were questions, as the city reopened and people expressed their desperation to be anywhere but home, whether the dinner party truly would have the renaissance some were tipping. Now, as fears rise again, those who kept their side hustles going are grateful they did.
I've tasted every iteration of restaurant-food-in-your-house over lockdown. I've done Atlas boss Charlie Carrington's masterclasses, where the cheffiest bits such as sauces come pre-prepared, but learning to cook the rest of the dish is the point. I got ready-to-eat lasagnes from Attica and heat-and-eat pantry staples from Sunda. I even requested from-scratch recipes from Zoe Birch of Greasy Zoes, and spent a week trying to cook one degustation.
Everything had highs and lows, but the finish-what-a-serious-chef-started model was the undisputed champion.
For restaurants such as Entrecote, Supernormal and Tipo 00, whose respective menus of steak, dumplings and fresh pastas don't translate well to hot delivery on the back of a bike, the system solves a lot of problems. Everything is prepped to a point where you just have to follow one or two idiot-proof instructions to get the item on the plate in its intended state.
To put Providoor properly to the test, I ordered a combination of dishes that I reasoned I would never bother to cook from scratch and that would suffer the most in traditional delivery, plus a few I've had in situ for comparison. This meant tiny Turkish dumplings (manti) from Maha; the crisp duck with soft bao from Supernormal, and Tipo's squid-ink tagliolini with bottarga and roe.
I ordered from four restaurants, which is something you can happily do in one session, but be aware that each order incurs its own $16.50 delivery fee and comes in a shame-inducing box, so it's probably only worth doing if you're ordering a good amount from each store.
Please also note if you skip the fine print as I did (and have a doorstep that's actually the street), "early morning delivery" can mean just after midnight. You can opt to provide access codes for an apartment situation, but you might also be running downstairs in knickers.
Cooking instructions are easy. Even so, if you prefer to be sat with your guests or frazzle easily, the Providoor option of hiring a chef to do it all might be for you. Case in point: I sedate my friends with big flatbreads (crisped up in the oven) and Maha's infallible hummus, and fiery muhammara dip, then calculate I need to ratchet up the oven to 220 degrees for Supernormal's duck and boil water both to heat the vacuum-sealed bag of manti dumplings and later to cook Tipo's pasta.
Test one: those manti, warmed through in their luxe buttery sauce and finished with a dollop of labne, sumac and dried mint, are every bit as bitey and full-flavoured as in the restaurant.
We change tack and tackle Sunda's marinated squid noodles (squoodles?) with bean shoots and Chinese sausage. It's a salty-sweet riot, the result of a lot of cheffy steps in the background such as turning squid into paper-fine noodles and getting a razor-edged balance to the sauce.
Tipo's classic inky swirl of tagliolini requires all the talent of boiling up some Barilla or Dolmio, but here you get incredible depth and the luxury finishing touches of bottarga and glistening roe.
My brioche from Supernormal's lobster roll didn't revive well, but everything else, from Maha's cured kingfish with high notes of preserved lemon to Supernormal's duck, which crisps on cue then obligingly falls off the bone, hit home with surprising accuracy.
And sure, there's work involved, but not the days it would take you to get the same results if you started from scratch.
There's no getting around the amount of packaging required to keep elements at their best, but for a system that gets you the goods from your favourite restaurants, keeps the commissions low and onshore, it's a far less dystopian vision of dining from restaurants at home. I'll bite.
Delivery Within 35km of the CBD it's a $16.50 flat fee or pick up from restaurants direct.
Drinks Restaurants sell their beer and wine lists, or you can add cocktails from Ugly Duckling and the Everleigh.
Cost Restaurant prices.
Go-to dishes Maha's Turkish beef dumplings $18.50; Supernormal's duck bao $29.
Pro tip Make sure you have a secure drop spot for boxes.