June 25, 2020

It’s clear that many of us have expunged our kitchen demons during this lockdown period, broadening our culinary horizons with Indonesian beef rendang and sourdough loaves with perked up “ears.” On big nights, we decanter our finest wines, a 1998 Chateau Musar from Lebanon and slice through thick slabs of côte de boeuf, oblivious to the oil splatters in the kitchen and the stacks of cutlery and chinaware building up in the sink.

Admit it, there’s nothing quite like enjoying a multi-course feast that you didn’t have to slave away in the kitchen. Since we are in phase two now, I’m musing over the hot meals on wheels that have graced my dining table over the past three months. Some were brilliant, some were misrepresentations of the restaurant’s brilliance, some were pricey, some were fit for a king, and some did not make it to my Instagram stories. What a shame. I’m referring to a combination platter from a famous Sichuan restaurant.

So the rules follow when ordering food deliveries: Can I cook this (or a rendition of this) at home by myself? And do I have the time? If the answers to these are a firm no, my interest isn’t piqued. Sometimes, I wonder if my condominium security guard thinks that I’ve some sort of illegal activity going on, with all the constant drop-offs.

Let’s start with the easy ones. Salted & Hung’s picnic basket was a heap of goodies that demonstrated skills beyond that of a regular home cook. It warrants a vintage floral table cloth laid over a good ol’ dining table, hot milk tea in a pot dressed in a wool sleeve to match. The IPA sourdough heaved and cracked under the serrated knife, prompting you to smother it with duck rillette in between slices of nutty manchego cheese and house-smoked country ham. Open-faced sandwich, anyone? We suspect that the other dishes outside of the deli selection will be just as captivating, but why deviate from whipped lard?

I recall a time when sous vide cooking was all the rage, but it received backlash from old-school cooks calling it ‘boil-in-the-bag’ meals that were as soulless as they are, because of the non-existent skills taken to produce them.

Sousvidelicious has changed my perspective entirely. After a pleasant drop-off one evening, I was quick to slice open the pouches. What came out from those vacuum-sealed bags surpassed all my expectations. All five senses cranked up the moment the Tuscan osso buco hit the hot pan. Free-range veal shanks quivered to the touch of the wooden spatula and drank in the best of the vegetable and red wine sauce. It is to be served with gremolata, a herbaceous parsley and lemon zest condiment with a punch of garlic to give the dish a leg up. This ‘modern-day TV dinner’ is highly recommended if you’ve got friends coming over and need to act the part of a kitchen goddess.

Not all dishes are optimised for the long and sometimes unpredictable delivery period. Along with the endless options for DIY pasta and ramen kits that have flooded our social media feeds, another dish that benefits from à la minute preparation is steak. Just as fire has always been a basic necessity, meat is also a constitutive part of survival. Singapore’s finest steak and grill houses have been ramping up their offerings, squeezing their finest cuts into convenient packages that leave only the fun bits for the diners to reap the rewards of Maillard reaction in their kitchens.

I’m pivoting towards Morton Steakhouse’s surf and turf—butter baked lobster tail and tender centre-cut filet mignon. Also noteworthy is Bochinche for their Argentinian grass-fed beef, which serves as an opportunity to educate the folks on the differences between grain-fed and grass-fed meat. Their Argentinian ribeye and sirloin, after a wee rest from the searing hot pan, produced a real cross-continental experience that needed just a bit of smoked sea salt for alignment.

Fat Belly, an alternative steakhouse, has found ways to tackle the challenges of transporting their usual simple grilled intercostal cuts to your dining table. The beef chirashi don will make you a happy camper; charcoal-grilled cubes in a curious assortment from Misuji to Jo-Karubi and Zabuton keep you guessing as you work through spoonfuls of those interspersed with edamame, tamago and ikura. The bold should flout the ‘less is more’ rule with the foie gras and roasted bone marrow add-ons.

Covid-19 has forced many businesses to adapt and evolve faster than they cope. While some restaurants already have business models deeply rooted in the food delivery culture—i.e. burgers and pizzas; some others grapple with the present. Most deliveries fail to understand that devoid of fabulous service and chic decor, their food, placed in eco-friendly takeaway boxes is their first line of defence. Hence, it is pivotal to make a great first impression that will result in repeat customers.

A few restaurants have caused me to fall hook, line and sinker them. Wine RVLT, a ridiculously fun natural wine bar, translates the same energetic, capacious soul into its delivery menu. The Patty Melt came together in just under 20 minutes, comprising buttered Japanese milk bread, Westholme patty, cheddar cheese and ketchup combined with gribiche of your dreams. It shouldn’t be that delicious, but it was unmistakably a standout. Then there was Pollen’s confit duck leg cassoulet, which was wildly successful in eliciting winter holiday vibes—a robust dish of pork, duck and beans swathed in a lardaceous sheen.

Po’s attempt to sell familiar comfort food updated with modern flairs, from the Tingkat-inspired delivery containers to the flourishes of handpicked flower crabmeat, resonated with me. It transported me back to days of customary Sunday family lunches complete with chopstick battles and banter about everything under the sun.

While I firmly believe that comfort food will a place in our lockdown world, there should also be an opportunity for delectable peculiarities at the dinner table. Chef Wai Leong of Restaurant Ibid cooks the sort of food he wants to eat, in an oddball sort of way, and it works. His renegade takeaway feasts begin with cheese shao bings snuffed in yeasted butter and ending with a gooey black rice mochi cake crowned with cooling milk tea ice cream. Although the family ate away quizzically, they had capital T for tasty written all over their faces. I also suggest their lion head’s meatball over scallion noodles.

As the generals of the Singapore dining industry prepare their infantry for a comeback, not all of us are prepared to witness the battles up front. But the least we can do is to call or go online to make an order.