It’ll be interesting to see whether click-and-collect services last beyond today.
For we have finally reached Independence Day for restaurants, the date for when socially distanced restaurants in Shropshire can re-open, though our friends across the border in mid-Wales must wait to an as-yet unspecified date.
It’s to be hoped they do. The range of home deliveries, hampers, store cupboard ingredients and click-and-collect options has been a standout feature of lockdown.
Showcasing the inherent creativity and can-do attitude of the culinary sector, there have been diamonds in the rough.
Besides, as we end hibernation and begin to circulate more freely, restaurateurs and owners will accept a few hard facts.
Firstly, having been away from restaurants for three months and with the virus still in circulation, a number of people simply won’t feel comfortable visiting their local bistro.
They have every right to stay at home. Those in at-risk groups will understandably have reservations about exposing themselves to the risk of a disease that has killed huge numbers in recent months. It will take time for confidence to return and even venues with the most rigorous cleaning procedures must accept their customers’ prerogative to wait a while longer and avoid any further spikes or waves of infection.
Secondly, venues will be operating on much slimmer margins. Being in the restaurant industry is not for the faint-hearted in any event and though venues can re-open, many will have to adjust to a harsher economic climate. There will be further business collapses and redundancies. Capacity is lower, there is less money in circulation and the normal that existed back in February will not return for a long, long time.
It’s a hard road back to where we were.
Covid-19 was a sliding doors moment, one in which restaurants found themselves on the wrong side of the glass.
In view of that, restaurateurs will have to find new ways to reach the reluctant while also generating new income streams so that they keep the wolf from the door.
Click and collect and home delivery goes some way to filling that gap. It’s also wonderfully enjoyable for many and has provided light during the dark spring of 2020.
Across the region, the standards have been high, though perhaps it’s no surprise to find that Dough and Oil, in Shrewsbury, is among the best in class.
It’s been a breath of fresh air since launching a few years back. Cleverly styled to provide an urban feel, it’s continued to trade through lockdown by providing a home delivery service.
And while there’s not the same frisson of excitement about a knock on the door from the delivery guy as there is about eating in a cutting-edge venue, it’s remained remarkably popular.
The ordering system hasn’t quite matched the efficiency that might be expected. We’ve called on a number of occasions and there have been some where it would have been easier to talk to a cushion than order a pizza. No matter, on this occasion we got through, spoke to someone willing and able and our order was placed.
The time given for delivery was wildly inaccurate (again), but part of the Covid-19 eating experience has been accepting that restaurants can’t match their pre-pandemic standards most of the time.
Though the customer experience doesn’t match what went before, the food does. Dough And Oil remains the best in the county, one of three – the others are in Ludlow and Bridgnorth – that regularly excels.
Exceptional food, interesting combinations, a left-field approach; all come with the ticket price at 18 Castle Street.
We ordered a pizza each, no starters and one dessert (yup, for Slim Boy Fat). The Rasta was mine. Featuring a garlic butter base topped with mozzarella, it was flavoured with sweet and spicy jerk chicken and a fabulous mango and coconut salsa. Fragrant coriander gave it a herby twist. It was delightful.
There’s something rather marvellous about doing the simple things well and Dough And Oil continues to nail it.
Their pizzas have light, fluffy bases – think duck down pillows – that puff up in a super-hot oven.
Flavours are interesting; how many other pizza houses are adding mango and coconut to their list? If variety is the spice of life, Dough and Oil is a stand at Morocco’s Rahba Kedima market.
My partner’s Big Sur was equally spectacular. A conventional pizza with a tomato sauce base and lashings of mozzarella it was topped with ham and pineapple. Except the ham was prosciutto, so that it cooked to a crispy perfection in the oven. The pineapple was small cubes and the intrinsic sweetness had been balanced by a swish of harissa.
Whoever writes the menu at Dough and Oil deserves the weekend’s tips – they are doing a great job.
The venue continues to offer an interesting and appropriate range of drinks: The Rasta, for instance, comes with a six-pack of Red Stripe, if you can stomach it.
We burned £5.50 on a dessert; a classic Eton Mess. Served in a small plastic tub – the sort in which you might buy a milkshake – it was a delightful extravagance.
Too many calories, too much cream, too much sugar; the mess was a treat. Strawberries, raspberries and an intensely saucy drizzle of red made for fabulous eating.
If any parents have a lethargic kid, they could do worse than making them eat the Dough and Oil Eton Mess, then watch them roar like a budgie on steroids.
Dough and Oil made an impressive start to trading and has put barely a foot wrong during its short life. It’s the sort of place that every town needs, a cool, happening, vibey independent with a great owner, an exceptional menu and a chef who knows the way around a kitchen.
So as we head into a new era of socially distanced restaurants, here’s hoping that it – along with others in our region – continue to operate the services that have worked so well during the past three months.
The Salad Shooters, with vegan cheese, £10.50
The Big Catch, with a range of fish, £13
The Bianca, with Shropshire Blue Cheese, £12
Dessers – all £5.50
Cheesecake with mixed berry coulis
Brownie with raspberry coulis
Steady Rollin Man Deya (500ml beer), £5.80
San Pellegrino Lemon, £2.10
Merlot, France, £19 a bottle
Dough and Oil
18, Castle Street, Shrewsbury