What started as a bit of fun for Sydney restaurateur Sean Moran to keep himself busy and cheer up his customers has now become a lockdown internet sensation.
His Instagram posts, presenting handwritten COVID-19 takeaway menus as a series of artworks, styled with vegetables, flowers, forks and kitchen utensils, have left his audience hungry for more.
"I've been amazed by all the feedback," said Moran, the man behind the iconic 28-year-old Bondi restaurant Sean's Panaroma, and the High Hopes Roadhouse in Bilpin in the Blue Mountains that opened just as the pandemic kicked off in June last year. "It seems a lot of people are loving them.
"I think times like these give everyone time to think what they're all about and I've found the more personal side of me I project, the more people react to it. And while none of these are perfect, and you can see mistakes, I think that display of vulnerability resonates with everyone at a time like this."
For some of Moran's followers, it might be all about the food – hearty winter warmers such as braised beef brisket and roasted rump, carrots, spuds, onion gravy, rainbow chard and Yorkshire pudding, followed by quince roly poly pudding and custard – but for others it's a serve of real comfort as pleasing to the eye as it might be to the stomach.
One of his most popular Insta posts has his menu surrounded by a border of simple, empty forks, to show how much he's missing his regular diners. They obviously felt it too, as the number of followers immediately jumped up.
Another, featuring a winter salad of cos, firecracker radish, Willowbrae goats' curd, fried cauliflower and buckwheat, is encircled by vegetables picked from his Blue Mountains farm, from which he sources much of his produce. The menu of free-range pork schnitzel with Heidi Gruyere, apple slaw and mash, has a delicate frame of vivid blue seashells.
"The only thing I was ever good at in school was designing the title pages of projects," said Moran, 56, who's currently holed up with partner Michael Robertson (Manoo) in their apartment above the restaurant. "From there, it was all downhill.
"But I wanted to try to keep busy during the lockdown, and I'm really enjoying doing these. I wanted to cheer people up too, with mental health such an issue with COVID, and felt this is a bit of escapism and fun."
Moran is well-versed in trying to brighten people's lives. During the devastating bushfires of 2019-20 many of his neighbours in the mountains lost their homes, and he opened his High Hopes Roadhouse partly as a way to rally them. It's since become a neighbourhood hub and drop-in centre as well as a restaurant, although the venue has closed temporarily for the latest lockdown.
"We were luckier than most in that we didn't lose our house," he said. "We just had a bit of fencing go and spot fires and emotional stuff. But we know we'll be back. And in the meantime, with these latest challenges, we all have to keep smiling and keep our minds off worrying."