Restaurants are back. Sort of. The conversations are now all about how dining out will change when we get to the other side – but perhaps they should also be about how diners are changing as well.
Because we are. We're a bit wary, shell-shocked, even. Torn between longing to race out and be wined and dined, and worried about the exposure to risk, and the cost.
It's all very well to be exhorted to support the restaurant industry as it does it tough, but if there's no money coming in, then it's going to be 101 ways with mince for dinner for a while yet.
So here I am, kicking off my first review in a couple of months at Chiosco (kee-oss-koh), the casual seaside baby brother of Ormeggio in Mosman. Why here? Because being perched at a table on a pier surrounded by blue water and boats is as far away from my apartment as I can get.
Because I can forget all about closed borders and pretend I'm on an overseas holiday. Because the Ormeggio team is up and running in part to support their Italian visa-holding staff through a difficult time. But mainly because I can.
Oh, the joy of having someone bring a cocktail to the table who isn't me. Why does this negroni ($18) taste so much better than any I've made in the past three months? Because someone else made it. And made it beautifully, I might add.
Yes, it's a bit weird to have only five tables of two in a room that normally seats 80, even if my fellow diners have dressed to the nines and are determined to make a night of it. And yes, there's a little moment that gives you pause every time you pick up new cutlery or handle the laminated menu.
But after a bit – or maybe after the negroni – something warm surges through my body, and I relax and feel unaccountably happy.
A number of different business models have been adopted by the early-openers, from degustation menus to private dining. Here, Alessandro Pavoni and talented young Pugliese-born head chef Giuseppe Fuzio do a smart, no-brainer six-course feast of their greatest hits, for $75 a head.
It's designed for maximum comfort, from the just-baked crusty cushions of focaccia with whippy ricotta to the you-guessed-it tiramisu, delivered in a perfect log of boozy, creamy sweetness.
It's all good, and sometimes great. Their vitello tonnato is the stuff of dreams, the tuna cream perfectly judged, dotted with explosions of deep-fried capers, parsley oil and toasty pine nuts.
Salt-and-pepper calamari is done with delicacy and restraint. A big bowl of spaghetti is a tangle of lightly cooked prawns in a bisque-like sauce, leavened by diced zucchini and the warm bite of chilli.
OK, but please, take pity. I'm out of form, not used to eating this much food. With the theme music from The Godfather playing, I feel like a background extra in the wedding scene, told to keep eating no matter what.
The crisp, golden crumbed chicken alla Milanese with its bowl of soft roasted potatoes is wasted on me, and I've had more mayonnaise than in a month of salad sangers.
The tiramisu gets taken home for another time, handled, as everything else has been, with genuine charm.
We're not in the new normal yet, and it will be weird until we hit the magic 100-maximum diners mark in July. But I don't care.
This is my first meal out of captivity for 67 days, six hours, and 15 minutes, and it feels great. I'm back. Dining is back. Hospitality is back. Restaurants are back. Sort of.
Chiosco by Ormeggio
Address: The Jetty, D'Albora Marinas, Spit Road, Mosman, 02 9046 7333, chiosco.com.au
Open: Wed-Sun from 5pm; Sat and Sun from 11.30am
Dining window: 90-minute seating for a maximum of 10 people
Take-away? Yes, everything from lasagne ($25) to 1kg bistecca fiorentina for sharing ($95) for delivery or pick-up.
Health check: Faux hedging between tables, anti-bacterial table wipe-downs
Drinks: Excellent cocktails, Italian beers, and a tightly edited list of Italianish wines. For example, a good-value Allora pinot grigio by Pizzini ($12/$49). No BYO for the moment.
Cost: $75pp for a set six-course menu of Italian classics, including unlimited still and sparkling water.