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With Diners at Home, London’s Restaurants Bring Valentine’s Vibes From Afar

With the worst dining out day of the year cancelled, the capital’s restaurants step in

Heart-shaped biscuits served with poached pears and cream
A very pretty dessert from Ottolenghi

Welcome back to Insta Stories, a column examining the London restaurant scene through the often-problematic medium of Instagram. This week’s filter is dedicated to Ruslan.

News of the week

Valentine’s Day: a chance to celebrate one’s significant other through the medium of a fancy restaurant dinner, or a cynical cash grab that somehow manages to commoditise something as ephemeral and fleeting as human love? Trick question: it’s both. But February 2021 rolls around with an interesting twist on the now-timeworn formula of chocolate-dipped strawberries and glasses of bubbles on arrival: there is no arrival, because there are no restaurants open for dine-in. Into the vacuum, then, rush a range of heat-at-home kits for punters still trying to extract something ‘special’ from the same dining table that has been the venue for approximately 900 consecutive meals since the pandemic began. Here’s to optimism!

Alternative of the week

On the other hand, it’s probably a lot cheaper simply to cut to the chase.

Leftovers of the week

Proposing a new conceptual model: the hypebeast Instagram ingredient virality curve. Stage one: early adoption. A handful of Natoora customers get their hands on something that screams seasonality and gussy it up so prettily it leads directly into stage two: ubiquity. Ingredients at this stage are typically prepared in “traditional” fashion, so as to emphasise their innate purity. But pretty soon this leads to stage three, boredom, which in turn carries over into stage four: experimentation. Welcome to stage four, rhubarb; welcome to stage four, haggis.

Natty juice of the week

Gonna tell my kids this was orange wine.

Must-have accessory of the week

It feels weird, in a world of nationwide meal kit deliveries, to not to be able to enjoy something at a moment’s notice. In 2021, the samosas and other Punjabi fare knocked out at Restaurant Sat Bains under the MommaBains brand are a genuine rarity: something further than a click away; something — gasp! — that cosseted Londoners can’t just order on a whim. Which, of course, makes them infinitely more desirable, and their lucky recipients in the capital the modern equivalent of the kid at school who had the Charizard shiny. Someone set up a free trade deal with Nottingham ASAP.

Pivot of the week

Congratulations, whoever had “Avocado toast made by the person who baked Prince Harry’s wedding cake available on Deliveroo” on their Pandemic Food Bingo card.

Dish of the week

This Valentine’s Day, say it with Farçon.

Shot of the week

Fish, egg, fish egg.