What is it about eating in restaurants that we find so appealing? Obviously there’s the chance to eat delicious food and avoid the washing up, but the allure of restaurants goes far beyond that. As with watching a film at the cinema instead of your living room, there’s a certain excitement that comes with going out to eat, which can be hard to recapture in a familiar domestic setting.
But if you’re stuck in the house, or trying to save a little money in these uncertain times, you can still experience the joy of eating at a restaurant without setting a toe outside your front door. All it takes is a little preparation and imagination (although, you will also have to wash your own dishes).
Here are all the ways in which you can bring the restaurant experience into your home, from creating choice menus to buying meat online.
Choose a theme
What kind of restaurants do you most enjoy visiting? Perhaps you’re partial to a taste of Italy? Or maybe an American-style diner, where steak, waffles and hot coffee are the order of the day? Whatever your taste, choosing a theme for your home restaurant recreation will give help the menu and decor to practically organise themselves.
As you choose a theme, you should also think about who you’re going to involve in this meal. If it’s strictly a couple’s affair, you can perhaps be a little more ambitious and refined: a romantic Mediterranean meal, for example, with fine wine, olives and feta. If the whole family is involved, however, you can be a little more easy going, recreating the chaotic fun of a family restaurant. Whatever road you go down, make sure to choose something you know you’ll enjoy.
Create a menu
Once you’ve settled on a theme, it’s time to create a complementary menu.
The idea of recreating restaurant quality food might seem a daunting one, especially if your normal cooking life rarely gets more complicated than spaghetti Bolognese. But don’t fret. Remember that this is your kitchen, your rules, and this is just supposed to be a bit of fun. You don’t need to start flambéing and filleting food you can’t pronounce in order to make a tasty, memorable meal (unless you want to, of course).
Think of restaurants you’ve been to that make the same kind of food you want to make, and go from there. What do you usually order? Real Italian pizza? Tender lamb with all the trimmings? Aromatic curry? Or a classic burger with fries? Whatever you choose, keep things simple, and do some research before you so much as pre-heat the oven. There are hundreds of copycat recipes available online to guide you through every step.
High quality ingredients
Even if you’ve decided to serve a meal you’ve made a hundred times before, the thing that will really elevate it above all your prior attempts will be the quality of your ingredients. Restaurants don’t just buy their meat and vegetables from the local supermarket. They have specialist suppliers to give them the best of the best. So take a leaf out of their book and hunt down the best ingredients you can find.
Meat is the trickiest ingredient to source. It’s sometimes hard to know the origins of supermarket meat, and often you find it’s got more water to it than protein, but unless you’ve got a local butcher handy, you might think you’ve got no other choice.
Except you do. To guarantee the best meat for your home restaurant, buying meat online is the way to go. Companies like the Dorset Meat Company deliver high-quality, ethically reared meat straight to your front door for whenever you need it. All their meat comes from 100% grass-fed, free range animals from 20 family-run farms in Dorset and Wiltshire, meaning it is full of vitamins, minerals, and – most importantly, flavour.
You can create your own meat box online with all the cuts you’ll need for your menu (A roast chicken, perhaps? Or some Venison chorizo to spice up a stew?), or choose from any of their pre-made boxes, including the Family BBQ Meat Box or the Full English Breakfast Meat Box. All are prepared by master butchers, and will help make your home restaurant worthy of a Michelin Star.
Artful food presentation
Even the most cheap and cheerful meal can be dressed up with a few artistic flourishes.
We’ve all seen those cooking programs where the sauces come in pretty dollops and elements of the food are ‘deconstructed’ (A.K.A. Not put together like they should be). You don’t need to go that far, but you can certainly dress up your plates with a couple of nifty restaurant tricks, like garnishing poultry dishes with fresh herbs, adding a lemon wedge to the side of a helping of fish, and topping your dessert with some brightly coloured berries or shavings of chocolate.
Sometimes it’s the little touches that make all the difference.
Set up the room
You can make the most gorgeous meal your home has ever seen, but if you’re eating it on your laps, or at a table still half-covered in the kids’ homework, it’ll feel like just another Thursday tea, and all that effort will have been for nothing.
So take the time to set the scene before you serve the meal. This might involve covering the table in fresh linen, rolled up napkins and silverware, if that suits your theme, or putting a nice candle or vase of fresh flowers in the middle of the table. Just do all the things you wouldn’t usually bother with, to make the room a little more festive.
Create an ambience
Ambience can be dictated by two key features: lighting and music.
If you’re trying to create a fine-dining experience, dim your lights and perhaps light a few candles to create an intimate, romantic environment. If you’re going for something more casual, you can keep the lights a little brighter (though not surgical); anything that will help get you in the restaurant mood.
For music, you’re really spoilt for choice, thanks to the abundance of playlists to be found across all music streaming services (including recordings of real restaurant background noise). Find or create a playlist that works for your theme (Dolly Parton will fit right into an American Diner, but might be a bit jarring in an upscale French restaurant), and play it at an appropriate volume. Too quiet and it will won’t accomplish anything; too loud and it’ll impede conversation.
Dress up and enjoy
If you were heading out to a restaurant, you’d make some effort, wouldn’t you? Then why skip that step now? Putting on a nice shirt or dress, a little make up or fragrance, can make you feel like a whole new person, and really get you excited for what’s to come. If this is going to be a romantic evening, go all out with the formal wear. If it’s a family night with a fun theme, the costumes will be half the fun.
And the fun is what’s most important. Now pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy your meal.
*This is a collaborative post