Mail on Sunday's TOM PARKER BOWLES gives verdict on returning to pubs

God, it’s SO good to be back! As the first glasses of Chablis are sipped, oysters slurped and turbot lifted expertly from the bone, Mail on Sunday food critic TOM PARKER BOWLES gives his delighted verdict

Well, this is it then. Independence Day. Super Saturday. One lunch to rule them all. After three months and 11 days of closed doors, shuttered windows and eerily quiet kitchens, Britain’s restaurants and pubs have been allowed to open once more. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Not so much ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George!’ as a thundering hooray for a hospitality trade working so hard to ensure the safety of punters and workers alike.

So here I am, on the dot of 12.30pm, sitting back in Scott’s, that Mayfair temple to all things fishy, and one of my favourite places on Earth. And I’m ordering food from an actual menu.

You know, those lovely lists of dishes, with prices attached, prepared by a skilled professional (no shopping or chopping required) and delivered to your table by someone seemingly delighted to be back at work, making people happy, doing the thing they love best. 

After three months and 11 days of closed doors, shuttered windows and eerily quiet kitchens, Britain’s restaurants and pubs have been allowed to open once more. Above, Tom-Parker Bowles outside Scott’s in Mayfair

This is more than just going out to eat. It’s an edible hand clap, a show of solidarity, an essential gesture in supporting an industry we love so much.

I have to admit feeling a little nervous. Butterflies fluttering in my belly, a sense of unease and disquiet, of not being quite sure what to expect. Like a small boy on his first day at new school.

Quite why, I’m not sure. A few months back, going to a restaurant was more normal than breathing in and out. It was my life. My love. The very centre of my world. But that was then and this is now. After countless weeks of cooking for no one but myself and the children, would we still need restaurants at all? But within moments of entering Scott’s, it is if we’d never left.

The great Sean is still there at the door, greeting all arrivals like old friends. There’s a discreet temperature check upon entering, and a few tables removed to ensure safe distancing.

I’m glad to see we have smart glass panels embossed with fish rather than plastic separators to protect the guests, and each table has its own Scott’s branded bottle of sanitiser. Tim Hughes, chef-director of Caprice Holdings, which owns Scott’s, keeps a seasoned eye on things from behind the seafood bar, clad in his whites.

We talk. I’ve known him for years. He’s happy to be back in action.

To start, the atmosphere is quiet, even a little subdued. But as those first glasses of Chablis are sipped, oysters slurped and turbot lifted expertly from the bone, you feel the room relax.

‘It’s so good to be back,’ says our waiter with a gleam in his eye. ‘It’s like the first day of opening all over again.’ 

So here I am, on the dot of 12.30pm, sitting back in Scott’s (above), that Mayfair temple to all things fishy, and one of my favourite places. And I’m ordering food from an actual menu

And slowly, but surely, the old hubbub returns, the well-fed murmur of a great restaurant. The service is as slick and warm as ever. But today, it’s like eating out for the first time. I feel indebted to all the staff, suffused with gratitude and joy.

Friends ring in from The Wolseley, The Ivy and all those other London stalwarts, reporting a similar reaction. Restaurants are coming back to life, surely, slowly, safely. An industry rising, fit and ready from an enforced and unprecedented sleep.

Not all of them, of course. Some are waiting to see what happens, others simply cannot take the risk. And with the majority of the country still uncertain about venturing out again, these are the first small steps on a long and rocky path. The July 4 relaxation of the rules is not a silver bullet, some miracle cure that will restore the fortunes of this great industry.

We need confidence, clear messages from the Government, people returning to work; the theatres and music venues that are equally essential to city and provincial life, being reopened too. Going out must feel like a pleasure, rather than peril. But it can be done, as Scott’s shows today. Not just sensible but safe.

Safety is paramount. The killer Covid-19 is still very much about and a further lockdown would be ruinous for all.

Which is why respect is everything – for your fellow diners, for the staff. Especially for the staff, both seen and unseen. The waiters and waitresses delivering your food. The maître d’s. The head chefs, sous, commis, cleaners and kitchen porters. Be kind. Be patient. It’s important in normal times. Utterly crucial now. This is about trust on both sides. That the restaurants will ensure a safe, clean environment for all. And that we, the punters, will not act like fools.

I revel in wine being poured into my glass, and plates taken away, rather than the usual trudge from table to dishwasher. I’ve missed this so much, from the easy, resolutely upmarket glamour of Scott’s (above), to the magnificent Thai cafes and other local favourites

But God it’s good to be back. To eat plump, sweet tempura prawns, clad in a gossamer slip of batter. And salty, briny Morecambe Bay oysters. And great chunks of spanking fresh turbot, piled high on the fork in pearlescent flakes.

I revel in wine being poured into my glass, and plates taken away, rather than the usual trudge from table to dishwasher. In the unfiltered joy of sitting in a room, with other people, eating, drinking, breaking bread. I’ve missed this all so much, from the easy, resolutely upmarket glamour of Scott’s, to the equally magnificent Thai cafes, Korean barbecue joints, Italian stalwarts and other local favourites.

As Chancellor Rishi Sunak, one of the very few politicians to come out of this pandemic with a shred of credibility, said yesterday: ‘Eat out to help out.’

The future of restaurants and pubs lies in our pockets, and in the way we behave. In short, go out if you feel comfortable doing so. And don’t be a fool. Because good restaurants, whatever the size or price per head, are about so much more than food. They are communities, communes, expressions of identity, a place where all, on either side of the pass, can feel safe and happy and fulfilled. At least that’s what we hope.

As Will Beckett, co-founder of the divine Hawksmoor group, tweeted a couple of days back: ‘In the end, restaurants are about people. The ones you love. The ones you work with. The ones you don’t know. The ones who are looking after you.’

So please, if you can, just go out. Eat, drink and be merry.

Our country’s restaurants await with ever open arms.

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