Relax, Sydney. We can do this. We have endless depths of resilience, grit and coffee. And we also now have premium meal-delivery service, Providoor, the game-changer that delivered more than 500,000 restaurant meals through Melbourne's multiple lockdowns. And Providoor has Chat Thai, Three Blue Ducks, Nour, Rockpool Bar and Grill, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, Bentley Restaurant and Bar and so many of the great restaurants whose food we miss.
Rolled out by Shane Delia of Melbourne's Maha in 2020, Providoor's focus is on connecting restaurants with customers to help them survive.
"It's not just a lockdown business," Delia tells me. "It's set up to be a whole new revenue stream for them."
So how does it work? There is no centralised kitchen, because the food is prepped, packed and labelled by the restaurants themselves. Transported in (very) refrigerated vans, it's ready to heat and serve at home.
But can the restaurant's character and personality survive all that? Let's check out two very different restaurants – the rollicking, romantic, over-the-top Hubert in the city, and the tiny, chef-owned Lankan Filling Station in inner Darlinghurst.
Beef pan roll from Lankan Filling Station. Photo: Steven Woodburn
Lankan Filling Station, Darlinghurst
Blimey, it's well organised. I get more texts than I do from Australia Post, telling me where my food is and when to expect it, right up to it landing at 3.24pm in a big Providoor box with chill bag and ice pack.
Instructions from Lankan's chef-owner O Tama Carey are easy to follow, with colour photos of the finished dishes so you know what you're aiming for. I heat the starters in the oven – little crumbed crab cutlets (balls) with green chilli and curry powder ($16) and warmly spicy, crepe-wrapped beef pan roll ($8). I've already cooked up some rice because you can't order cooked rice, for some reason.
The thick tiles of ling cook gently in the time it takes to heat the coconut-creamy, herbal-tasting curry ($20). And I like how the feisty-hot katta sambol ($4) and sweet-and-sour seeni sambol ($4) play havoc with your wine, and how the lightly crunchy, shredded cabbage mallung ($12) brings everything together with a diplomat's grace.
Best bit It tastes home-cooked, modest, genuine, and Sri Lankan.
Pâté en croute from Restaurant Hubert. Photo: Supplied
Restaurant Hubert, Sydney CBD
The delivery from Restaurant Hubert includes a tall white candle – how romantic. Delivering at 7.45am on a Sunday? Not quite so romantic.
I've ordered the bistro fare I crave – pâté en croute and dill pickle ($25), chicken fricassee ($40), kimchi gratin ($14), and sourdough baguette with Pepe Saya butter ($8).
Fat-marbled and jelly-topped, the terrine is framed in good pastry, but the pickle looks dry, so I pimp in my own polski ogorki. The pink gratin looks strange but ends up being a highlight, the chilli-spiked cabbage rich with gruyere under a crust of crumbs.
Already brined, steamed and air-dried, the Game Farm half-chicken needs only a final 30-minute roast before serving with a beautiful chicken jus and thick, oniony bread sauce. Put together, it sneaks under my defences and makes me want to cry – for the backlit bar, live jazz, and hustly-bustly hospitality I can't have.
Kimchi gratin from Restaurant Hubert. Photo: Supplied
Best bit You get QR codes with prep instructions, a jazzy play list, and drinks coasters by linocut artist Allie Webb. And the chicken is amazing.
How to order Orders are taken until 4pm for next day delivery to Sydney, Canberra and regional NSW via certified cold freight, for a flat fee of $16.50, sydney.providoor.com.au
The verdict The whole process is well designed, from online ordering to packaging, although delivery time-frames are too broad (even given we're at home all day). But here's the win-win: you get a much wider choice of restaurants outside your 5km, and the restaurants get access to a much larger audience.
And you do get a sense, an intimation, a reminder, of the spirit of the actual restaurant. I dreamt of future Sri Lankan holidays, just as I used to at Lankan Filling Station, and stayed up too late and drank too much, just as I used to at Restaurant Hubert. As Shane Delia says, "You can't do that with hot food in a little box on the back of someone's bicycle."