Jun 6, '20

Who needs Balenciaga when you’ve got bento boxes?

Learning the joys of living local during the lockdown.

The first days of lockdown in London already feel like another age. Maybe it’s because they were marked by never-ending queuing for food. For someone born in Lithuania during the last years of the Soviet Union, long queues for grocery shopping felt all too much like déjà vu. Seeing supermarket shelves empty of flour and other staple ingredients took me back to my childhood. And with it came the realisation that supply chains and society are more fragile than we might have imagined. Is food ever really just a click away?

Aiste growing up in Lithuania, with her younger sister

These days, memories seem to fall into two categories: BL or AL. Before Lockdown or After Lockdown, that is. How I reminisce about the days when you could take a plane as easily as a taxi. Now, even a taxi feels novel… the last time I did so was two or three weeks ago, I think – maybe a month? To be honest, I can’t even remember.

What I do remember is my last trip abroad — a weekend in Geneva in February before hopping on a flight for a day-trip to Copenhagen to interview Rasmus Kofoed, chef extraordinaire of the three-Michelin-starred Geranium. I spent the whole day with Rasmus and his team (see photo, top), talking about their future plans – plans that, like my article on the restaurant for the print edition of Club Oenologique, are now on hold.

Not long afterwards, living freely and globally turned abruptly into living locally – and compulsorily. Yet within an equally short period of time, we’ve got used to this new way of living, and formed new habits. One thing that has become clear is how much more important food is than any other industry. I used to be a model, and I love my clothes as much as any woman, but really, who needs a Chanel handbag or Louboutin heels to survive?

104 Restaurant’s patisserie for delivery
104 Restaurant’s patisserie for delivery, tarte fine sablée au chocolat

Instead, thanks to social media, the world has turned into one big cookery show. Cooking every day, connecting with others and learning new skills from some of the greatest chefs in the world has been one of the better things to have come out of confinement. I think I’m a better cook than I was three-months ago, even if I still haven’t quite mastered hollandaise sauce (a mission I’m more than happy to give up on).

Supporting local businesses has also become an important part of daily life. Why make the hollandaise yourself, if Richard Wilkins of 104 Restaurant in my neighbourhood will make it perfectly, and then deliver it to my door, along with his epic tomato tart with pâte feuilletée – so exquisite that it could only be baked by someone who trained under the three-Michelin-starred Anne-Sophie Pic.

Now more than ever, I feel the importance of supporting my “local” and my community. It’s been heartwarming to see small restaurants and businesses reinventing themselves. The Notting Hill Fish shop is now a supermarket selling not only fish, but also bread from former Hedone chef Mikael Jonsson, cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy, and meat from the excellent HG Walter.

104 Restaurant’s tomato tart with pâte feuilletée
Kazutoshi Endo’s bento box

I’ve always argued that nothing beats home cooking, and the current situation has, in some ways, backed this up. Over these two months of lockdown, I’ve been eating healthier than ever, with more vegetables than ever. No home cooking will replace the social aspect of restaurants, though: breaking bread with friends old or new, the excitement of going to a place you’ve never been to before, and being blown away by a mind-blowing meal cooked by an artist.

My last London meal before lockdown was at Endo at the Rotunda, the one-Michelin starred sushi temple by Kazutoshi Endo. Last week, he started deliveries of elaborate bento boxes. The beautiful parcel, wrapped in sakura-coloured tissue, contains three boxes with signature dishes such as fish sandwich with Spanish truffles, Tokyo style chirashi or Wagyu beef tataki. I can’t wait to try them all. But most of all, Endo-san, I can’t wait to return to your restaurant.

This article was originally published in cluboenologique.com

Subscribe to Luxeat Newsletter to receive exclusive culinary stories and carefully curated restaurant recommendations