Missing restaurant food? Here's 5 ways you can recreate it at home.
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
As I write this we are 4 weeks into lockdown with no end in sight. Restaurants have been closed for weeks, and while you may have used the time to bake endless batches of banana bread and master the art of sourdough, by now perhaps you're getting a little fed up with your own cooking?
The convenience of going to a restaurant for a meal is one of the joys of modern life - one that many of us indulge in at least once a week. Whether it's a quick bite in your favourite high street chain, or a celebratory feast in a fine dining establishment, a meal out is an integral part of how we eat and a welcome break from home cooking. It's now also an indulgence we will have to live without for the foreseeable future.
With that in mind, I wanted to share a few thoughts on how to recreate the restaurant experience at home, because good food is a comfort and a joy, and we all need some of that right now.
1. Try something new
Part of the fun of going to eat out is trying things you'd never usually cook for yourself. But really, most dishes aren't that hard to make.
There are thousands of bored chefs stuck at home on furlough at the moment, filling Instagram, Facebook and Youtube with recipes and instructional videos on how to make almost any dish you can imagine, so it's the perfect time to try.
Think of what you'd order in your favourite restaurant, find a recipe online and give it a go. It will turn out better than you think, and you'll have fun and learn something in the process.
2. Butter is your friend
Butter is one of those things that's fallen from favour amongst home cooks as part of the war on fat. This is sad and wrong. Butter isn't bad for you (in moderation) and more importantly it's delicious, and it makes everything you put it on taste amazing. If you eat a meal in my restaurant you can be pretty certain there's butter in there somewhere.
Add it to mashed potatoes, put it on meat or fish, or vegetables, whisk it into a sauce... whatever you're cooking, butter makes it better.
3. Season your food
Another reason restaurant food tastes better is because it's seasoned properly. If your food tastes flat and bland it possibly just needs a pinch of salt.
Chef's have a whole arsenal of tricks and techniques to pack flavour into food, but there are a few simple ones you can use at home that will transform your cooking. As well as salt, try a squeeze of lemon or a dash of vinegar (to boost acid notes) experiment with adding herbs (leafy green ones for bright, fresh flavours or woody ones like thyme or rosemary for deeper aromatic tones) or add in a stock cube or a spoon of marmite for a boost of savoury, umami richness.
I cheat by dissolving a Knorr chicken "stock pot" in almost everything I cook at home. It's instant seasoning and adds depth of flavour. Try it - but remember they can be salty, so add the stock pot first, taste and then season with salt afterwards.
4. Plate it nicely
No, you don't have to go to town with smears and gels and dot and foams... but make a little effort to plate food well and it makes a huge difference to how you feel eating it. It will taste better as a result - hence the old adage that "the first bite is with the eye".
Some simple plating guidelines to follow - don't put too much on the plate, colours are attractive (nice veggies, some salad leaves or herbs), try to create some height by stacking or leaning elements against each other, and don't drown everything in sauce (you can do that at the table).
5. Focus on what you're eating
Turn the TV off. Put your phone away. Sit at the table. Pour some wine. The real joy of dining out isn't just the food, it's the experience. One huge reason the food seems better in a restaurant is because you're giving it your attention, so do the same at home. You don't have to do it every night - I'm as guilty as anyone else of eating dinner whilst binging Netflix - but give it a go tonight.
Oh, and get someone else to wash up.