Enthusiastic uptake of fine dining at home

“Our lockdown menu is not about the number of covers, it’s about engagement of our whole team and the energy that comes from that.” Josep Espuga Culinary Director at Pt. Leo Estate is justifiably proud of Pt. Leo at Home. In just over 24 hours, after Lockdown #6 announcement, the team managed to design a menu, craft at-home instructions, arrange delivery and add some special flourishes… a unique at-home Spotify playlist and environmental packaging. “Pt. Leo at Home was a great opportunity to engage the team. It’s so easy to lose staff when they are not involved in the kitchen.” Josep refers to the difficulties of staff retention faced by the whole industry during lockdown. “This energy will keep us focused on summer, which is just around the corner, and we expect will be very busy.”

Pt. Leo at Home is a blend of 80 per cent Pt. Leo Restaurant (the main dining room) and 20 per cent Laura (their fine dining). “This allowed for all those special occasions that families are celebrating during lockdown.” And customer feedback has been rapturous. Saturday deliveries see as many covers as pre-pandemic in their main dining room.

With every lockdown, hospitality has had to change the way it does business, but none more so than fine dining. Most cafes and food outlets have had a long-established takeaway service built into their business model, think, pizzerias, burger bars, Thai and Indian restaurants, Yum Cha. But fine dining, who traditionally focus on the dine-in experience, have had to rewrite menus, adopt takeaway and delivery, retrain staff, and in some instances introduce contactless ordering and paying. A reinvention so to speak.

Rose Bay fine dining restaurant Catalina has managed to retain the bulk of their staff during Sydney’s extensive lockdown due to huge demand of their takeaway menu. Included are some of Catalina’s staples but it is the dine-at-home platters that are whetting Sydneysider’s appetite. Ranging from $220-$500 the platters included special occasion delights such Sydney Rock lobster, natural oysters, dressed mud crab and their signature sourdough. The bad news for Sydneysiders is, due to popularity, the platters have sold out indefinitely.

Down south, Spring Racing Carnival nostalgia in the air and in honour of this Melbourne institution the master of race catering, Peter Rowland, is busy delivering their acclaimed chicken sandwiches. Another bustling fine dining delivery is Shane Delia’s Providoor, whose dictum is to deliver fine food to their customers. By July 2021 Providoor had delivered more than 500,000 meals across Victoria, extended to Sydney, supported dozens of hospitality businesses, and generated around $40 million in revenue. Names such as Rockpool @ Home; Otto; three blue ducks; Maha; Di Stasio; The Everleigh Bottling Co; have joined a growing list of fine dining establishments who deliver their signature dishes to tables across the nation. Lockdown is restrictive but it doesn’t mean people can’t enjoy special food.

A sneak peek behind the scenes at Pt. Leo Estate gives an insight to a fine dining metamorphosis. “Our menu had to be redesigned (within 24 hours) to be easily prepared at home,” says Josep. “All hot items needed to be heated at the same temperature, for the same length of time, to make it easy for the home cook.” This meant regular menu items – that service would normally manage across three or four different ovens, temperatures, and time frames – had to change to a home scenario of one oven. “And packaging of these meals is much more labour-intensive than plating up. Each element must go into a different container, so we designed a unique system to pack each of these aiming for zero errors.” Each item is pre-cooked or prepared, boxed into its bio pack and placed in the cool room, with a dedicated shelf per item. The next morning the team nominate one chef to call out the day’s orders, two chefs work in the cool room and gather each item, pack them into the Pt. Leo Estate wine boxes, and a final chef puts the completed order into a separate cool room. “It works much like service with one chef on the pass and the others working in the kitchen.”

With take away or delivery being the only mode of ‘dining out’ in many places, the amount of packaging, to keep elements at their best, has considerably increased. Recycling is an area that both consumers and restaurateurs are passionate about. Pt. Leo at Home has ensured 90 per cent of their packaging is compostable. Josep says, “we chose bio packs because they can be composted, even the lids. They are double the price of plastic but worth it and we’ve received very positive feedback from our guests.”

Fine-dining, takeaway and delivery are three words that once upon time would not have been uttered in the same sentence. But as lockdowns extend, life goes on. And so too do milestones, birthdays and anniversaries. The enthusiastic uptake of fine dining at home has allowed chefs to share their creations and diners take advantage of foods they wouldn’t otherwise get to at home. And this revolutionised way of fine dining has supported many small businesses when they’ve needed it the most.