After a week where bleach companies had to advise the American public not to inject cleaning fluid into their veins, and a lawyer dressed as the Grim Reaper stalked the beaches of Florida, I feel that some normality in my life is needed, hence back to the blog (if one can call writing this ‘normal’, as I haven’t done so in two months, when life was very much so). You don’t need me to tell you that the Covid-19 pandemic has created challenges way beyond the Black Mirror-y conundrums of Trump telling the American public to take their Domestos internally and morbidly creative ways of enforcing lockdown. This is probably now the defining moment of our generation; and many are likening the turmoil created by this virus to fuckenings like World War Two, The Great Depression or the 1918 Flu Pandemic at worst, or at the least, a situation without recent parallel in its sheer magnitude of chaos. Thousands have died and millions more have had their lives upended by the associated economic turmoil. As I said, you don’t need me to state the obvious, but it doesn’t seem right to not say something. And now I have, let’s move on and save the misery for the news.
I am especially riled and unnerved by one aspect of lockdown, and that is the devastating impact it is having on the hospitality industry – my industry. As I write this, the UK appears to be ‘flattening the curve’ and looking forward to the day when business might reopen. I will view this day with trepidation. Restaurants, cafes and bars are in the business of serving up atmosphere as much as food and booze, and how will this be created in a cavernous room with a handful of tables, two metres apart? And more critically, what will be the impact on these businesses’ bottom line, where some eateries can be packed to the rafters and still struggle with paper-thin margins?
Mercifully, lots of hospitality outlets have adapted to the new normal. Some hotels are hosting the homeless, key workers or emergency services, bars are facilitating online cocktail classes and of course many restaurants and cafés are moving to temporary concepts such as delivery service, takeaway or even food market.
One such restaurant is our wonderful local Italian trattoria, Con Gusto. One bleak spring afternoon, as The European and I took our daily state-sanctioned exercise hour, lamenting the closure of Greggs, McDonald’s and our unbelievably delicious Indian takeaway ‘Lane Kitchen’, we happened to walk past the tiny pillbox-shaped building that houses Con Gusto and noticed that their door was invitingly ajar. Closer inspection revealed that it was offering a three-course set menu for takeaway, reasonably priced at fifteen quid per person. Thinking with our stomachs as always, we ordered straightaway.
You can read my previous thoughts on Con Gusto here, and their Coronavirus offering (all prepared fresh and ready after a twenty-minute wait on the riverside) was just as wonderful. A little bit paired down in choice, and second time round (we made this a weekly thing at one point) the Caprese salad was a little sad, but I am really not going to split hairs about restaurant-quality food combined with the joys of cheap wine and sitting in front of Mad Men in
our my underwear. I especially enjoyed a beef ragu tagliatelle and their desserts (I could bathe myself in their panna cotta like a fat Cleopatra). Nevertheless, the real triumph here is seeing this little local business giving it everything it can to stay solvent – just one of many fantastic examples around the country.
Things are looking up every single day. The deaths – though still gut-wrenching to see those numbers come through every day on the daily government update – are creeping down, as is the mystical ‘R number. Greggs trialled a reopening then backtracked because they were overrun with people fighting over sausage rolls. Even Lane Kitchen miraculously opened again last weekend (well-overdue blog post coming up!) and even the guiltiest of pleasures that is McDonald’s might be making a return. Great news for my belly, great news for my blog, but even better tidings for the countless hospitality heroes that power these establishments, and with it, the soul of our nation.