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London Just Won’t Give Up on ‘Fine Dining’ Food Delivery

Cookout Club is attempting something other companies poured time and money into with little to show for it

A food delivery container filled with Barbary duck, polenta, red wine sauce, and cabbage on a wood background, seen in birdseye view
Glazed Barbary duck from Cookout Club
Cookout Club [Official Photo]

Another London restaurant delivery service is having a crack at delivering “really tasty, recognisable and healthier” food that doesn’t meet by now largely invented and stale preconceptions about takeaways to the capital’s front doors.

Cookout Club, founded by chef Philip Britten — formerly of three-Michelin-starred, now closed Chez Nico in Mayfair — promises “restaurant food.” The likes of glazed Barbary duck, cod cheeks with trofie and wild garlic, and a chocolate terrine with mango coulis. The prices are admirably low for the apparent ingredient quality — mains around £9.25 — as a kitchen running without service, crockery, and (high) rent and business rates cost should be able to achieve. Britten tells the Times that the project is focussed on that “really tasty, recognisable and healthier,” comparing his offer to what his godchildren make of food delivered on Deliveroo: “they don’t know what’s in it.” In a restaurant delivery market valued at £8.1 billion in January 2019, whose scope has grown hugely with the advent of Deliveroo and Uber Eats, that’s an awful lot of food apparently mystifying its diners; Cookout Club’s own kitchen, despite being the very “dark kitchen” to which it is compared to, is praised for being “state of the art.” For financial comparison, fine dining delivery service Supper — which is, for now, restricted to Zone 1 and has been unable to use its proprietary delivery technology to make dishes that travel badly travel well — most recently raised £500,000 in a crowdfund.

That turn of phrase — particularly “recognisable” and that comparison are where the concept of “fine dining” delivery pivots, wobbles, and so often falls down. Cookout Club differs from services like Supper and the perennially in “beta” The Cook and the Thief, which proclaim to solve the problems of delivering “restaurant food” with temperature-controlled scooters and dish-balancing gyros, by cooking its own food.

Where it doesn’t differ is in the propagation of the idea that largely Eurocentric, award-committee approved restaurant food is the apex of “fine” restaurant delivery, and of the idea that this needs its own set of parameters, technologies, and additional investment to maintain its equally special integrity, while quality, intricate, complex dishes from other cultures can just be put in some tupperware.

Sure, individual dishes that rely on extreme contrasts of temperature and texture readily controlled in a restaurant environment are unlikely to succeed in a delivery environment; the pervasive social construct that is the “time-poor, cash rich Londoner” might be keen on replacing the effort of cooking the kind of food that Cookout Club serves in, say, a dinner party setting. The latter of those situations is a viable, if not readily scalable line of business; the former suggests, radically, that maybe trying to deliver those dishes is just a colossal waste of time and money.