Many of my best laid plans have gone amiss this year, and this week’s review is no exception. It was all sorted: Zoë had the day off and we’d decided to take an off peak train to a quiet restaurant I’ve always loved, to chance our arm and enjoy a wonderful, peaceful lunch. We knew it would be our last chance to do anything like that before the new variant swept the country and hibernation became the only sensible option. And I was literally putting my coat and my scarf on in the hall when the shout came from upstairs. “I can’t fucking believe it. I’ve tested positive.”
The week that followed was nothing like I expected, under virtual house arrest and watching with concern as my other half ached, shivered and sweltered, couldn’t sleep at night and catnapped fitfully during the day. When she was awake, the cough seemed to come from the depths of her soul. After an encouraging start, she was unable to taste a thing for over a week. There were regular checks of her blood oxygen levels, and her temperature, and every morning I did a lateral flow test. Every morning, surreally, it came back negative.
Equally surreally, according to government guidelines I was allowed to carry on going out and about, shopping, even eating in restaurants if I wanted to. Of course I didn’t, because that would be nuts, so with the exception of a ridiculous dash to four different pharmacies to pick up steroids for Zoë’s asthma I spent a week on the sofa, making lunch and dinner, making a steady stream of hot beverages, a veritable Laurence Nightingale. My main task, I tended to think, was not to appear as worried as I was. And I reckon I did a reasonable job of that, even if writing this lets the cat out of the bag.
But there was one more curveball. This review was meant to come out last Friday, but the night after I ordered this particular takeaway Zoë’s breathing got so bad that I had to call 111, to translate for her because she couldn’t complete a full sentence with the air in her lungs. And at midnight an ambulance turned up, incongruously outside our little terraced house and took her away.
And so began five anxious days of text messages back and forward, keeping everybody in the loop, hoping things would get better rather than worse. I had a couple of phone conversations with Zoë – no visiting in the Covid ward – but each time she ran out of puff and energy after about fifteen minutes. And sleeping at night was a challenge on a busy ward full of bleeps and general mayhem, so she grabbed rest where she could.
Every day I traipsed to the hospital with a bag full of the latest things she’d requested: biscuits; samosas; Lucozade; M&S sandwiches (even without a sense of taste the hospital food is diabolical, apparently). And every day a nurse would meet me at the door, take the tote bag from me and whisk it away. She was there on the other side but I couldn’t see her, so near and yet so far. And so I went home, to a house suddenly too big and too quiet, to self-medicate by eating chocolate and binging Game Of Thrones.
To cut a long story short, she was discharged this week and is resting at home. She’s recovered enough strength to be frustrated that she can’t do more (and to order me around extremely efficiently), but not enough that she can do much beyond directing operations from bed or from the sofa. And everybody has been so lovely – to her, to me, to both of us. I’ve been overwhelmed by the offers of help and expressions of sympathy, and I’m beyond glad to have her back where she belongs.
This virus is no joke, especially if you have underlying health conditions, and it’s likely Zoë contracted the older, less serious variant. So I hope you’re all careful this Christmas – although, as always, I really feel for the hospitality sector which has, yet again, been hung out to dry by the Tories. People are cancelling reservations in their droves, and there hasn’t been a whisper of financial support from the government. As if last year hadn’t been bad enough for them, they now face another December without the bookings that tide them over for the months ahead.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago when all this was just the ghost of Covid yet to come, I sat down at my computer and decided who to order a contactless Deliveroo dinner from to give me something to review and to give you something to read. Zoë didn’t join me, because all she could taste were very salty and very sweet things, so she ordered a sweet and sour chicken from Kokoro instead. I suspect that even with Covid she had a better meal than I did (whoops: cat out of the bag again).
I picked 7Bone because I quite fancied a burger and I’d heard decent reports of their takeaways, including ones saying that they travelled well. And it’s been a long time since I ate there – I’ve not been back since I went on duty over four years ago – so it felt like revisiting their food was long overdue. And their menu is good, if a little too wedded to the idea that “dirty” (or, in some cases and for some reason, “dirrrty”), is a Good Thing when it comes to food: a great range of snacks, a good variety of burgers and fried chicken sandwiches and plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans.
For someone used to eating at Honest, you could easily feel spoiled for choice here. The burgers are all under ten pounds, although you order fries separately. And there was a small section of Christmas specials. 7Bone, you might not be surprised to hear, spells Christmas “xxxmas”: I guess that’s its schtick. Anyway I chose a burger and three snacks, none of which was described as unhygienic, and my order came to just under thirty pounds, not including driver tip.
I always hate writing this next bit, but I’m afraid this delivery was not without problems. I ordered at about twenty to seven, and eventually when my order arrived I saw from the ticket (which also said something facile like I’m dirty – take me home!: somebody in their marketing department thinks it’s still 1997 and hasn’t cancelled their subscription to Loaded) that it was due to be collected from the restaurant at seven. My driver didn’t collect it until twenty-five past seven, and he took an impressive three minutes to get it to my front door. But most of it was lukewarm, so what went wrong?
At a guess, the driver shortage is starting to affect Deliveroo: I was told they had a rider for me at 19:08, and then at 19:13 Deliveroo announced that they were still trying to get a rider. “We’re delivering lots of orders right now” said the following status update – which, when you’re still waiting for yours to arrive, sounds a lot like rubbing it in. Deliveroo also does this deeply cheeky thing of moving the goalposts in real time, so the estimated time of arrival of your order gets later and later. And this means you can never chase them about it, because technically it’s not late. Even when the driver was en route the message in the app said “Great news! Your order should be with you by 20:04”. How it was great news that my driver might take forty minutes to complete a five minute drive was a mystery to me.
It was hard to escape the conclusion that the order had been sitting there waiting for a rider for the best part of half an hour, and the temperature of the food tended to back that up. And, as so often with complicated supply chains, it’s hard to work out where the blame lies. It’s not the rider’s fault – he took next to no time to get the food to me – but is it Deliveroo’s fault for not having enough riders? Or should the restaurant, once it became clear that the order wasn’t going to go out for some time, have cooked another one?
All that leaves us in familiar territory this year on the blog, the slightly melancholy world of “if only it had been hot”. Take the burger: if it had been hot I think it could have been marvellous. I’d gone for the “Triple B”, which comes with blue cheese, bacon, bacon jam and truffle blue cheese dressing, and even lukewarm it was quite pleasant. To their credit, 7Bone allows you to either have a single burger pink or well done or two smashed patties. I’d gone for the latter, and it worked rather nicely. I mainly got the salty tang of blue cheese and little in the way of truffle, and the bacon jam was as inconsistently applied as the Covid regulations last year, but even so it wasn’t half bad. It made me want to go back and try it in their restaurant at some point next year, when hopefully it won’t take the best part of half an hour to get from the kitchen to my table.
Rather than go for the fries, I’d chosen the festive special, crispy fried roasties. I’m not sure how something can be fried and a roastie – surely you’re either one or the other – but these were smashed and fried potatoes dusted in sage salt and accompanied with a gloopy cheese sauce which I didn’t especially take to. The potatoes themselves were decent, though I wasn’t entirely convinced they were worth five pounds fifty. If only they’d been hot.
That said, the Korean fried chicken would not have been great even it had been piping hot. Gochujang, done right, has a beautiful taste which is simultaneously somehow sweet, hot, sour, spicy and savoury and I absolutely love it. This was the fake tan of gochujang – the colour was there but the taste was all wrong, just acrid, one-dimensional chilli. And while we’re on the subject, calling something fried chicken writes a cheque that promises crinkle and crunch, but this stuff couldn’t cash that cheque at all: texturally, it was a dud. I’m not a fan of restaurants turning “tender” from an adjective to a noun – it’s as bad, in its way, as “gifting” – but it does imply that the dish should at least be tender. This was as hard and unforgiving as Priti Patel. And even less appetising.
Last but not least, I had a snack which I had to order for smut value alone. I’d chosen “Coq skins” (it’s a shame they didn’t have the nerve to call them coq scratchings) because I’ve long felt that crispy skin is the absolute best part of a chicken. These were in danger of changing my mind, with an overwhelming taste of nothing but salt, salt and more salt, with a little underlying fat to make you feel profoundly icky afterwards. They could have shrivelled a slug at twenty paces. I didn’t eat many of these, because I didn’t want to do lasting damage to my love of chicken skin. Zoë, having finished off her Kokoro upstairs, probably could have tasted them, but I don’t think she’d have thanked me for the leftovers.
It might be for the best that the year is limping to an end, because I’m running out of ways to say fundamentally the same things: that a takeaway is not the best way to enjoy a restaurant’s food and that a delivery app is not the best way to order a takeaway. Those links in the chain mean there’s more that can go wrong, and if something does go wrong – which it does often – it’s harder to get somebody to take responsibility. In a restaurant if your food was lukewarm you’d send it back, but with deliveries that’s not really an option. In a restaurant, you wouldn’t pay. With a delivery, you already have. It’s a shame, because in the current climate we might all be ordering a lot more takeaways.
So on this evidence I would probably give 7Bone another try when it’s safe to go back and eat in, but I wouldn’t rush to order a delivery from them again. But, writing this in December 2021, I’m tempted to say “who cares?”. It’s just a takeaway, from a restaurant which was probably busy and stressed, in a climate where the cost of ingredients is going through the roof, inflation is going mad, it’s hard to get hold of drivers and all of a sudden hospitality businesses are losing customers left right and centre. So if you like burgers, maybe you should try 7Bone anyway: the burgers are decent, and you might have better luck than I did (just give those chicken strips a wide berth). But ultimately, I’m not sure a review like mine matters; this week, of all weeks, I’m reminded that there are far more important things in life.
60 St Mary’s Butts, Reading, RG1 2LG
Order via: Deliveroo