Well-run independent restaurants stand a better chance of surviving lockdown than the muscular high-street chains.
While restaurants – along with theatres, sporting events, festivals and the like – face a harder road than most, there are reasons for some optimism.
Smaller restaurants can adapt and provide a flexible offering. Many have already started to provide eat-at-home offerings, ranging from hampers and store cupboard shopping to click and collect, home delivery and simple takeaways.
The best are those that do all of the preparation and provide clear instructions for home cooks, providing a restaurant-style experience from the comfort of a home dining room.
Bigger multiples, meanwhile, will struggle. It’s simply not possible for them to vary their offer when they’re ordering via a remote head office and when there are insurmountable logistical challenges.
Independents, in contrast, are light on their feet. If they want to change the offer, within a day or two they can. It really isn’t that challenging.
They will be better placed when we finally beat the pandemic, therefore, as they’ll have minimised debt by generating revenues in the meantime. They’ll also have kept their links with customers.
Clays, at Broseley, is an example of a restaurant that is thriving. A new weekly menu is released via its website each Monday morning for the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Pre-orders are made by telephone from Monday to Thursday, between 9.30am and 5.30pm.
Alternatively, people can access a contact page via their website, filling out details and using a message box to place a food order, stating choice of day and collection or delivery preference. The restaurant rings back to confirm.
It provides deliveries to Broseley residents on each day, with a priority for those who cannot get to the restaurant, for instance those self-isolating and the elderly.
It delivers to Much Wenlock on Fridays then Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale, Jackfield and Coalport on Saturdays. Under the Government rules, residents can drive from further afield, including Barnard Castle, probably, for collections.
Owners David and Trudy Clay have long been among Shropshire’s best restauranteurs. Great food and engaged service had put their restaurant head and shoulders above the competition.
As they’ve reinvented themselves for the Covid-19 age, they’re continuing to lead from the front. Their offer is clear and represents good value, the food is full of taste and interest, the process of ordering remarkably simple.
Little wonder they have an average 5/5 score on Tripadvisor – for once, the site appears to be correct. Locals love the food, the friendliness and enjoy such classics as fish pie, lamb tagine and lasagne.
My partner and I ate during Clays’ French week, during which the food was first class. As Covid-19 extends, restaurateurs are improving the way in which they provide food. So the tin foil takeaways that passed muster two weeks ago are gradually being replaced by more thoughtful and sophisticated offerings.
In the case of Clays, purchasers receive a selection of cardboard and paper containers in which elements of their dinner are stored. That means less damage to the environment and an easy-to-assemble dinner.
So we started with delicious, high quality French olives that had been marinated in herbs alongside fabulously light and puffy Gruyere gougeres.
The wonderful choux puffs were brilliantly cheesy and returned to their original light and airy texture after a few minutes in the oven.
The starter was brandade de moure, Clays’ own salt cod blended with potato, garlic and olive oil and served with a soft boiled egg, crudites and croutons.
It was sufficiently substantial to make a main – one of the benefits of Covid-19 eating is that customers can enjoy generous portions by eating them over the course of two days, rather than one. Beautifully seasoned, deliciously light and fabulously fresh, the brandade was a hit.
The main was a tried-and-tested classic. A well-seasoned cassoulet contained sausages with fresh pork and salt pork flavouring the beans. Lamb shoulder and pork loin made an appearance alongside tomatoes, white beans, breadcrumbs and rosemary. It was served with a small box of greens, comprising sweet heart cabbage, asparagus, kale and peas. Delish.
There were two desserts: a towering glazed strawberry tart with crème patisserie. The pastry was crisp and short, the crème patisserie deliciously creamy while the strawberries were tart and juicy. It was a magnificent dessert, the sort one might find in a Grade A French cake shop.
The second dessert, a compote of apricots with lavender, was sweet and fragrant. It was served with a vanilla crème custard that was generously rippled with tiny dots of vanilla seeds. An almond tuile biscuit provided crunch while the apricots were soft, sweet and yielding.
Fat chocolate truffles completed our dinner, which we ate over the course of two evenings.
Clays has long been in the region’s top ten restaurants. Inventive food, brilliant flavours, great service and the warmest of welcomes have been the hallmarks that have encouraged people to visit time and again.
They were reasonably quick off the mark in moving to home delivery service and in recent weeks they’ve thrilled hundreds of customers with restaurant-standard food for home consumption.
They’ve solved the logistical challenges, not found it necessary to compromise on flavour or being kind to the environment while their customer service remains first class. Unlike those restaurants that require dozens of phone calls to reach and who have inadequate information for customers, Clays set out their terms simply and clearly and the process is as easy as dining out in non-Covid times.
The local economy is heading for a major shake-down in the present year as many businesses go to the wall. Hospitality will be one of the sectors hit most hard, but there will be survivors. Clays will be among them. Their ingenuity, attention to detail and plain and simple skills mean they have a loyal set of customers who keep coming back for more.
Certainty about the future is no less than the restaurant deserves. It is an exemplar of high standards and deserves the community’s continued support.
Clays at home £30
A regional style ‘Fougasse’ topped with a little caramelised onion and herbs
Olives – Moulin de Daudet, the ultimate French olives, marinated with herbs de Provence
Gruyère gougères choux puffs
Brandade de morue, salt cod blended with potato, olive oil and garlic, soft boiled egg, crudités and croutons
Compote of apricots with lavender, vanilla cream custard, almond tuile biscuit ,or
Classic glazed strawberry tartlet with creme patisserie
Tomme de Savoie and Fourme d’ambert, with biscuits and grapes
Followed by chocolate truffles
67, High Street, Broseley