Going out for a meal is one of life’s pleasures for many of us.
However, the coronavirus lockdown has had a profound effect on that.
For more than three months, our favourite pubs, restaurants and cafes were forced to close to dine-in customers, and for a large chunk of this time, we were also asked to stay at home as much as possible.
Due to the Leicester lockdown, venues in the lockdown zone are having to remain closed, for at least another two weeks.
However, others in the county have now opened their doors to dine-in customers once again.
There are, of course, big differences to ensure customer and staff safety, such as socially-distanced seating, table service only, and disposable menus.
So, what is dining out like now, with these new measures in place?
I was keen to find out and also a little nervous. It’s been more than three months since I last sat inside a county restaurant or pub, and a lot has changed since then.
Curiosity got the better of me, though, and I booked a table for myself and my hubby to try out Sunday lunch at The Royal Oak, in Kirby Muxloe.
The Royal Oak is in the heart of the village and is a cosy, traditional pub that has its own deli.
Since learning about the in-house deli, I’d planned to pay a visit, and giving the Sunday roast a whirl on the same trip seemed like a good idea.
It was a lovely sunny Sunday when we arrived, and a large amount of people were sitting on benches at the front of the pub enjoying a drink.
The area of car park straight in front of the pub has been cordoned off to allow for this area to be extended, so the car park is smaller, but we didn’t have any trouble finding a space.
New safety measures
Heading to the entrance, first impressions were good. The doors were propped open, which meant we didn’t need to touch any handles, and there was a rope barrier separating the “in” and “out” line in the wide foyer.
There was a table with sanitiser on it, and a notice asking customers to use it as they enter. Then there was a sign asking customers to stand there while waiting to be seated.
We did just that, and after less than a minute, a member of staff came over and took us to our table.
I was impressed by the way the pub looked. There were plenty of notices reminding customers to social distance and the tables were all well spaced out with bottles of hand sanitiser on each.
There was also a large sign affixed to two high-top tables in front of the bar, letting customers know it is “table service only”.
We only saw one member of staff wearing a mask – and it isn’t a legal requirement to do so. However, I think it may make people feel more at ease to see them being worn by staff serving them. Of course, others may think it makes the experience more clinical and less relaxing.
I was told by one of the waitresses that each member of staff has their temperature tested when they get to work, so that was reassuring – as was the information that the cleaning routine has been greatly stepped up.
After filling in our Test and Trace form (which means customers can be alerted if it emerges they have unwittingly been in the vicinity of someone later diagnosed with the illness), we were handed our disposable menus.
The Sunday lunch menu offers one course for £14.95, two courses for £19.95 and three courses for £24.95.
Starters on the day of our visit were black pudding and bacon salad, prawn cocktail, soup of the day (vegetable) and garlic mushrooms on toasted sourdough.
We reckoned two courses would be enough for us, so went for a main and dessert.
Mains included roast beef, roast pork, roast turkey and trout and prawn gratin.
Simon ordered the beef and I chose the turkey.
We were the only diners inside the pub at this stage, and our meals were on the table within 15 minutes of ordering.
They looked like decent plates of food, and the large Yorkshire puddings caught my eye as the plates were put on the table (just at the edge, so we could pull them in front of ourselves).
In terms of taste, I particularly enjoyed the Yorkshires, the rich cauliflower cheese and the roast potatoes.
There was a generous amount of meat and it was reasonably lean, but we felt both the beef and the turkey lacked flavour. Each meal also included a parsnip and a stuffing ball, which tasted okay, as did the accompanying vegetable selection – although it would have been more interesting if it had comprised more than just carrots and broccoli.
For dessert, Simon chose the waffle with fresh strawberries and ice cream and I opted for the “chocolate glory”. Other options were mixed ice cream and chocolate brownie and ice cream.
Both looked good and tasted good.
My chocolate glory was a sundae glass full of sweet treats including brownie pieces, two types of ice cream (soft scoop and Mr Whippy-style soft serve), strawberries and a chocolate flake. I almost managed to finish it all!
Simon was equally happy with his fresh-tasting waffle, which was accompanied by fresh strawberries and Mr Whippy-style ice cream.
Despite my initial worries, it was good to be dining out again.
The staff were doing a good job and were polite and friendly, and the pub felt like a comfortable and safe place to be.
The food was decent, with some elements better than others. At £19.95 for two courses, I’d say it’s priced a little too high based on our experience, but this visit has made me feel happy about eating out again.
Our rating: 3/5
Food hygiene rating: 3/5