Restaurants are reopening. We know that. You know that. Even your pet knows that - why are you leaving the house again? I thought we had a pact. But when it comes to deciding whether or not you want to visit London restaurants right now, it’s harder to know what to do. The decision to eat out again is entirely up to you. It’s your call. But what we can do is help you make that decision by letting you know what our experiences of eating out since lockdown have been like. In this feature, we tag along with our Staff Writer, Heidi, as she heads to Elliot’s al fresco summer pop-up.
Warning: the inside of her head is a dark place filled with illicit thoughts of pizza.
6:28pm: I leave my flat full of hope, excitement, and with a total longing for the outside world.
6:29pm: I return to my flat realising I have forgotten my bank card, ID, and umbrella. Leaving the house. Tricky, very tricky.
6.31pm: Time to mask up. My new artsy floral mask is dubbed ‘Fleabag’s Step-mum’ for its propensity to make me look like I own a kiln and a kaftan that was once blessed by Spencer Pratt. As my XL cab rocks up we share a gallant nod like two mask-wearing warriors entering into battle together. Kiss FM our comrade. Dua Lipa’s New Rules our battle cry. The smell of my German 70% alcohol hand sanitizer, overwhelming.
6.55pm: Is it just me or has everyone become exceptionally good looking? Like, really, really good looking. I hang my head out the window like a spaniel that hasn’t felt the wind in its ears for the last decade. As we cross the river I can smell that slightly foul stink of the Thames in summer. It is glorious.
7.12pm: Traffic. I forgot about you.
7.19pm: I have arrived at my destination. The entrance to Borough Market is in full pint-sipping swing. In fact, it looks like a classic Friday night in July. There’s a lot of people and a lot of touching. I dodge humans and one elaborate group selfie like I’m a contestant on Takeshi’s Castle. Or a person who’s pretty scared of contracting a virus from physical contact. Either or.
7.21pm: Feeling anxious and then at the sight of Elliot’s outdoor al fresco summer pop-up, feeling instantly better. They’ve turned the area across from their little restaurant into a fully-fledged socially-distant terrace. It’s called ‘Ell Fresco’ - puntastic - and after forgetting which name I booked under, I’m seated instantly. Fresh air and space aplenty.
7.28pm: My friend arrives. She looks simultaneously excited and entirely shell-shocked that I am early for the first time in our eight-year friendship. 2020, I shrug. We order negronis. She whispers, they’re going to bring us alcohol. We are euphoric.
7:47pm: A round of Isle of Mull cheese puffs arrive at our table. We still haven’t ordered because we want it all and we’ve forgotten how to make a decision past ‘which trackie bottoms will I wear today’. We will begin with a snack.
7:48pm: The cheese puffs are finished. A naughty little fried situation that we inhale in quick bites and the odd glowing expletive. They’re crisp and gooey, and cheese, and more cheese. Where is the Isle Of Mull? What are their housing prices like? We are strong in mind, spirit, and cheddar. Let’s order.
8:05pm: Help us. We now want wine. But which wine? Was the world always full of this many big decisions? A server comes to our rescue. Again. Elliot’s runs a strictly natural wine operation and in the most polite way possible the server directs us away from a nutty French number to a funky, sea-air Spanish wine that will match our clams. Plus, it’s cheaper. I am in love.
8:12pm: My name is Heidi Lauth Beasley and I am eating seafood and the sun is shining. I might stand on the table and shout “I’m king of the world” a la Jack Dawson whilst making my friend pretend to be a dolphin for ‘continuity’. Instead, I’ll tell you that Elliot’s make a mean peppercorn butter. The tuna crudo is also a winner. Chunks in brine to this, what a glo-up.
8.14pm: A loud crash behind us. A server from an adjacent restaurant has fallen over. Staff from Elliot’s and the surrounding restaurants rush to her with brooms and smiles. Desperate urge to hug her.
8.22pm: Conversation has turned to what it must be like to be a server right now. Her visor must make it hard to see. Masks, handwashing, collecting details, adapting to a whole new restaurant space. There are people everywhere, Stoney Street is full of pints. It doesn’t feel real. It is an elaborate Zoom background. We sip our wine.
8:48pm: Our server comes and collects our plates. So good, I say. As a person that grated a mini babybel over some toast and called it dinner during lockdown, my bar is obviously quite low. But still, by any bar and any standards their 10-inch nduja pizza is great. Just outside the barriers, a couple are having a squabble. Gorgonzola and eavesdropping, a fabulous combination.
9:05pm: Time to go to the toilet. No, I’m not going to give you details. The journey there and back is like a very sloppy version of ballet. A lot of sweeping steps to allow someone to pass, performative nods, and some slightly panicked turns when realising that someone is trying to come up the stairs as I go down them. Londoners and an awareness of personal space, a new phenomenon.
9:27pm: Limoncello sorbet, baby. This is the good life.
9.35pm: The people on the table next to us have ordered another round of pints. As the server arrives with the beers, one of them reaches up to the tray, wraps his hand around hers, and takes the pint. She looks shocked, then rightfully pissed off, then walks away.
9:36pm: I’m livid. And not like when I say I’m livid because my Netflix subscription has gone up. No, I’m livid like when my mother says ‘I am livid’ and we take cover under the nearest sturdy piece of furniture. Touching servers in general, a solid no no. Touching a server in the midst of a contagious virus, absolutely not. Please be nice to them.
10:20pm: The sun has set. We should go but it’s so nice here. The street is emptying out and it feels like London, just with the volume turned down. I sit back in my chair and rub at my belly, contemplating a very brief power-nap.
11:15pm: We finally leave. I look back over my shoulder to the folding chairs that have been our holiday for the last few hours. A little slice of small plates heaven. Am I okay? I might cry. I’ll blame 2020. Or the potency of the Limoncello sorbet.