The Victorian lockdown dining guide you never wanted

Make Out Meals delivers meal kits where you can cook recipes from your favourite restaurants.
Make Out Meals delivers meal kits where you can cook recipes from your favourite restaurants. Photo: Sammy Green

 

We can't wait to see the back of the latest in a long, weary line of lockdowns. It may be hell, but the hope and ingenuity that springs eternal from the trial is really something to wonder at. 

Consider, for starters, the rallying by the hospitality industry around its peers. 


 

Pull out a map and see what is actually in your suburb. Use social media to see if you're into their jam.

Restaurants support a staggering ecosystem of casual workers and there has been a disappointing dearth of formal support. But the rallying by the industry itself has been one of the bright sparks of lockdown. Businesses such as Etta, Kazuki's, Daughter in Law, Pope Joan, Good Gnocchi, Pho Nom, Bar Margaux and more have opened their kitchens to out-of-work colleagues to provide dinner and a high five, no questions asked.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Phở Nom (@phonomau)

Grazeland in Spotswood opened for takeaway only, and grocery supplier The Flying Zucchinis is doing pay-it-forward produce boxes (and seeking more donors to meet the need), and until lockdown ends Chin Chin, Baby and Hawker Hall  are making 500 meals a day for those who can show they have been stood down.

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Want to help but feeling broke? Fair Feed is a double do-good option for takeaway. Formed last year by Tom Jacobson, of Elsternwick diner Smoke and Pickles, the organisation has revved up to hire extra stood-down staff and excess stock from restaurants. But their schtick is also to make big, healthy, dietary-flexible meals that are affordable for pretty much anyone. Dishes like butternut soups with zaatar and Lebanese chicken with green beans and rice are $5-$8 a person. You can get packs of eight meals for $65 – even in peacetime (take note, exhausted families). This lockdown, they are supporting seven new workers and selling emergency packs using produce from other restaurants.

While we're still on the feelgood, affordable and delicious train, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre catering, Salamatea House in Sunshine, and Free to Feed all use their food offerings to raise money and provide employment to refugees with no other support. That need doubles during crises such as lockdowns, meaning every dollar spent on buttery chickpea bakes and harira soup at the likes of Hana Assafiri's Moroccan Soup Bar Two Go helps. This week, ASRC's menu, which features Persian walnut and pomegranate fesenjan stew, spiced Malaysian coconut and carrot soup and caramel profiteroles, is available for Fitzroy North pick-up or delivery Tuesday to Saturdays. 

What about those really in need: burnt-out parents? Take every shortcut you can. This isn't a sprint, or a marathon, it's a teeth-gritting grind towards the finish line. A friend swears by the Gnoccheria in Coburg, which opened last year and has about 20 fresh pastas, including a daily special and pre-made pizza bases that land you in the half-way zone between buying take-away, cooking and doing an activity with your kids.

"The kids aren't much help, but they can stir a sauce or put slices of things on a pizza," she tells me, with the bonus that she doesn't need to set up or clean down a made-from-scratch crime scene. Not near Coburg? Pasta masters at Carlton's Al Dente or Ladro in Prahran offer the goods. If you have children with slightly more nimble fingers and longer attention spans, Din Tai Fung and Oriental Teahouse both have assemble-it-yourself dumpling kits (plus packs of ready-to-steam ones if interest wanes).

If lunch is proving the time-sucking killer, consider outsourcing this meal. It's proving a good one, with typically nighttime-only restaurants offering lockdown-only daytime specials that you'll want to get around. New wine bar Lene in Richmond has been proffering crisp-battered fish sandwiches and pine mushroom burgers on freshly made milk buns; Thi Le at Anchovy is road-testing the impeccable banh mi she will soon serve at her spin-off Ca Com daily, and Comma in Moorabbin is giving locals a taste of the bagelry they hope to open in the suburb soon.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Anchovy (@anchovy338)

The sting extends to farmers and champions of great produce, so it's nice to see chefs such as Joe Vargetto of Mister Bianco in Kew teaming up with Lorena Corso of Napier Quarter in Fitzroy to support their communal suppliers like Floridia Cheese, Boccaccio Cellars, Pino's Fine Produce and Mount Zero olives by creating ready to heat-and-eat boxes that will see you through however long this takes.

These are random examples. Now that lockdown has extended, almost every business is reverting to business-as-not-usual and to try and list them all is a fool's errand. My real advice? Pull out a map and see what is actually in your suburb. Use social media to see if you're into their jam. Walk there, or drive there, say hello. Become an actual local at your local.

Remember that delivery apps charge restaurants fees of 15 to 35 per cent, so some of the best places aren't on them. Do you want to miss out on Attica's bake shop cheesecake and their summer camp souvlaki kits (featuring rotisserie lamb, mixed pickles and rice pilaf slaw) because you didn't go to the source? You do not.

That said, if you have been meaning to try some of the city's top names – like Lagoon Dining or Albert Park's star Indian, Atta – and are beyond their 10km zone, every day during the current lockdown Providoor is delivering whole menus from numerous big names, ready to heat and eat. If you want to take a slightly more hands-on approach, a Hello Fresh-style business called Make Out Meals formed late last year to deliver the raw ingredients for three meals plus recipe cards from restaurants such as BombaCecconi's and Lady Boy so you can learn to cook their signatures for the future.

The need out there is great, but don't forget the need within. Ask if this is the moment to start making a sourdough starter (it's not) or if you want the easy and guaranteed win of hot, glazed and fluffy Parker House rolls. Yes? Parker Bros is a new start-up selling kits. You get the fresh dough, honey-sherry glaze, maple butter, smoked salt and a pastry brush for a minimal-effort baking project with maximum results.

You need those wins like you need a dozen oysters from seafood supplier Clamms that were destined for restaurants and are yours for less than $20. Like you need the best of regional Victorian produce delivered to your door from the Victorian Country Market because you can no longer get there this June long weekend, and those businesses are really going to miss you.

You hate the drill, Melbourne, but you do know it. Chin up, forks aloft.