OUR table is ready. There’s oil, vinegar, salt, pepper . . . and sanitiser. I must remember not to pour this last on my food as I did the contents of an oil lamp in a gloomy restaurant while not having my glasses.
The cutlery arrives on a linen napkin with the waiter handing it out for us to take without him touching it (although I did wonder how he’d put it on in the first place).
And instead of putting our plates on the table we have to take them from a tray.
It’s a funny old world eating out in the Covid-19 pandemic.
They give it the works at Trippets lounge bar on Trippet Lane, Sheffield. Hand sanitiser at the door, plastic screens over the bar, single use menus, one in-one out for the toilets, sterilising the tables, lots and lots of handwashing although thankfully owners Debbie and Carl Shaw have been told they don’t need masks or gloves.
There’s even a screen on the hatch between kitchen and bar.
You get the feeling they would hose you down with disinfectant if that was what Health & Safety required.
I’ve been itching to write a review since Lockdown was eased but the first restaurant I visited didn’t do any of this: tables already laid, menus re-used, the only sanitiser was in the loos. So while the food was lovely I didn’t write a word, secretly hoping environmental health would give them a talking to.
As it happens the council’s health police checked out Trippets on the buzzing first day it reopened and gave them the all clear.
“It’s cost us a fortune,” sighed chef Carl.
Now a health warning of my own. No reviewer with a heart, and certainly not this one, is going to give any restaurant a thumping for the next few months. Businesses which have struggled through the Hell and High Water of Lockdown don’t want any sniping from the sidelines the moment they reopen. Hence my silence over restaurant #1.
Not that Trippets would ever get a thumping. More of a thumbs up and a sigh of relief. It’s still a pleasure to eat here, particularly after owners and customers thought Lockdown spelt The End. Beer was given away, wine returned to the suppliers . . . and there were tears.
But they’re back as before. Almost. Aside from its food, Trippets is known for its gin and jazz. Debbie is Sheffield’s number one ginslinger, forever the Woman in Black, with a spectacular array of bottles on offer. But there is no live music, banned by the authorities just in case a musician blows a treble clef full of coronavirus across the room.
It means the loss of a vital attraction for the restaurant and no work for the musicians. But after a splendid crowdfunding effort by customers Carl and Debbie have rigged up a system which plays and projects specially recorded performances at Trippets on a wall. The musicians (and singer) got paid, the restaurant got its music.
Ironically, the loss of the performance space means extra tables, to make up for those lost in the restaurant proper.
In common with so many other restaurants, everything rides on people’s reaction to eating out in the next few months. Will the Great British Public follow Boris Johnson’s call to Eat Out To Help Out? For the Shaws, who opened on Valentines Day 2015 after 15 years at the highly-rated Black Bull in Ashford-in-the-Water, it could be make or break time.
No one should have anything to fear on the health and safety aspect. As to the food, it’s a succession of ‘small plates’ which included excellent boquerones and Gordal olives, spinach, mint and feta parcels with taztziki, rump steak with red pepper salsa and a risotto with crispy prawns – its Indian spices making it seem fresh from a naughty night out with a kedgeree.
Trippets, understandably, is open on a restricted basis at the moment, from Friday to Sunday, including brunch. And plenty of gin.
*89 Trippet Lane, Sheffield S1 4EL. Tel 0114 276 2930. Web http://www.trippetsloungebar.co.uk