Can you remember that far back? It’s been, ooh, at least 10 days and my memory’s already a little hazy. That’s because the gastronomic gymnastics of The House of the Rising Sun have blurred all that went before.
Did we really get in our cars, pop on a clean shirt, book a table, arrange a babysitter and go to all that time and trouble when we could instead have been eating a £40 quid feast from the comfort of our own sofa. Gah. What fools. Thank goodness for Corona.
The restaurant sector has been hit by a tsunami of redundancies and cancellations, leading to job losses on an unprecedented scale. Not withstanding Chancellor Rishi’s intervention a week hence, allowing the sector to furlough staff, many are no longer in work. And those who are are clinging on by their fingernails.
Eating out – or, should that be eating in – is no longer an act of pleasure. It’s an act of solidarity. Whether that continues as new social distancing guidelines are introduced remains to be seen.
Our local restaurants are populated by some of the hardest working and most creative individuals in the county. Most of them are stark staring mad, of course – and proud to be, in many cases – and now is the time when we ought to support them.
It’s perhaps no surprise that they had adapted within 24 hours of the Government’s decision to close restaurants. That came on Friday March 20 and the next day most were already offering a take-away-the-ingredients-and-cook-it-at-home service, as well as a conventional takeaway offering supported by local transport/app providers.
The results, frankly, have been utterly, lip-smackingly gorgeous. The House of The Rising Sun has inevitably led the charge. And having enjoyed so much food for a fraction of the cost of eating out, we’re hoping this Covid-19 lark will last a while longer.
I called. They picked up within three rings. “Do you do a takeaway?” They did. “How long does it take?” 15 minutes. Boom. Fire the engine, we’re on our way.
You’d imagine restaurants with exceptional front of house staff would no longer have the chance to dazzle. After all, they can’t pour the wine, engage in conversation, ferry hot plates of food and do some of the smaller, more nuanced things that exceptional front of house staff do. And you’d be wrong. For the service at The House of The Rising Sun was as good as it has ever been.
When I went to collect, the restaurant manager and another member of staff were at the door. There was no handshaking and we observed the need to socially distance. But we engaged in polite chat while the chef wrapped up the food. Since its launch, The House of The Rising Sun – and other restaurants in the group owned by entrepreneur Sam Taylor – have been ahead of the game. Smart, savvy, fashionable, switched on; they observe opportunity while others are still daydreaming, they capitalise before others have got started, they provide assured standards that others find themselves following.
The new takeaway era is no different. Service is great – believe me, having called a few this weekend, not all are operating to the same standard – even though we’re no longer sitting down in a funky, Soho-esque dining room.
Food travels about as well as a hardback book. When you’re cooking to a reasonable level, it’s not intended to make its way into a plastic container before being ferried a mile or two across town. And there’s no denying that what would have been a crisp batter on a deliciously piquant sweet and sour chicken had lost a little of its crunch in the five minutes it took to get it home.
The flavours, however, had not. Nor, indeed, had the presentation.
Here’s the thing: while your local neighbourhood takeaway routinely slops food into a container with little thought or care, the guys at The House of The Rising Sun were plating as though dishes were going out to the restaurant.
So the sweet and sour was dressed with a swish of sweet and sour sauce before being laid on a bed of sticky Thai rice. A container of stir-fried egg noodles with pork – a snip at £4.50 – emerged steaming and thrillingly sweet and sticky from its container.
A tandoor chicken masala with ballsy chunks of cauliflower and other seasonal vegetables was topped with chopped coriander and served with a crisp, straight-out-the-fryer poppadum. Delicious. And frankly ridiculously good value for £7.95.
Edamame beans were offered salty, sticky or spicy; we opted for the former and enjoyed them as we ate. The highlights, however, were immaculately cooked and perfectly presented starters. A duck gyoza featured shredded confit duck with Peking plum sauce. Intensely flavoured with meltingly tender meat, it set angels dancing on my tongue.
An exquisite Korean pork belly bao bun was the dish of the day. Served on a soft, feathered bun, laid flat, and stacked with a kewpie mayo, sesame seeds, perfectly fermented kimchi and glazed in a tangy Korean sauce, the meat had been cooked thoroughly until the fat rendered out. Slightly crisp and indulgent, I took out an engagement ring and proposed to it on the spot. Won-der-ful, as Craig Revel-Horwood might have said.
We’d ordered too much food – great, plenty left for tomorrow – and been dazzled by flavourbombs that offered hits of umami and sweet, savoury and salt. Textures were good; remarkable, truly, given the travel thing, while presentation was as impressive as a morning suit on a wedding day.
I’d like to tell you I’d raided the fridge and eaten a Kit Kat for dessert, but it would be a lie. The House of The Rising Sun had sated the healthiest of appetites.
To steal from the Chancellor, it’s on all of us to support our local communities and those who work within them while Covid-19 plays merry hell with what we once considered normal. But if that means eating food of the quality and value provided by The House of The Rising Sun, I’m hoping that damned virus sticks around for a while yet.
If you’ve not yet tried it; now’s the time. Taylor and his team won’t be letting the sun go down on them.
If you know a great restaurant that’s offering a brilliant take-away service, let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the details, so we can check it out.
BBQ jack fruit bao bun, £4.50
Lentil dhal, £5.50
Mezze board, £6.95
North African lamb tagine with cous cous,
Chicken katsu with rice, £7.50
Teriyaki beef noodles, £10
Stir-fried egg noodles, £3
Edamame beans, £3
THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN
18, Butcher Row, Shrewsbury