God, I miss eating out. Not just fancy dinners - I miss all and any food not eaten at home. I miss lattes and Leon porridge and croissants in greaseproof bags; seven course tasting menus and salad boxes eaten on a bench and falafel wraps from the stall outside the library. Olives hoovered up with a perfect negroni in a dark, gossiping bar. Chips, fat or thin but definitely very salty, with a pint pulled fresh and crisp from a glistening silver tap. I miss looking at a menu and saying, I’ll have that, rather than plan a day’s worth of meals around the last onion in North London. I miss not having to wash up every single bloody hour.
Obviously, in the grand scheme of coronavirus, moaning about not being able to eat out demands a concerto on a truly microscopic violin. But then you have come here for a recommendation of where to eat.
So, you should eat at Top Cuvee. Well, not eat at. Eat from. Across London, restaurants desperately trying to cling on in this cataclysmic disaster movie have pivoted to takeaway and delivery. And so last Saturday I found myself using my daily state-mandated exercise period to jog the 10km round trip to Top Cuvee in Highbury.
In the golden days of yore, Top Cuvee was a cute natural wine/small plates/vibes place that I’d always meant to visit. In the covid present, it has metamorphosed into Shop Cuvee: a one-stop shop for natty wine and bottled cocktails, groceries and ‘high-end ready meals’, aka those small plates packaged up and ready to assemble at home.
I order the Feast bag, containing seven dishes for £50. Decanted onto my kitchen counter, the plastic tubs of sauce and sausage and celeriac shavings do not look hugely enticing. Nor do they look huge, although that may be because our quarantine home-cooking consists of portion sizes that one ought to win a T-shirt upon finishing. Top Cuvee’s dishes are a welcome nudge back to normal portion control. A fistful of fresh tagliatelle, yolk yellow and boasting flour-dusted freshness, ready to be boiled to three minute perfection by my own fair hands, then swirled in mushroom and wild garlic ragu. Nine neat little agnolotti, to be served in the intensely beefy stock I heat in a pan but could drink by the mugful.
And it’s all excellent. Each ‘ready meal’ takes less than three minutes to assemble and, by jove, ‘it tastes just like restaurant food!’ as I exclaim, many times, tears of wonder brimming in my greedy little eyes. There are a dozen slices of good-quality salumi, and a celeriac and apple remoulade, neon with wild garlic and as perfectly balanced as a tightrope walker over Niagara Falls. A burrata panzanella, oozing cream and crunch and joy, and those brilliant pastas. And then boudin blanc, new potatoes and tarragon sauce. I would never order this last in a restaurant, and boiling a plastic bag of it in a saucepan full of murky pasta water is a very stark reminder of the New Covid Reality. The fat, pale, extremely penis-y sausage bubbles in a green-flecked white sauce, like someone desperately in need of a Dawn O'Porter Channel 4 show. But paint me green and call me a cucumber, it's bloody delicious, all delicate porkiness melding with cream and herbs. We drink half a bottle of wine, and then the other half, and then some brandy we found in the back of a cupboard. And we might be surrounded by drying laundry in a flat we’ve barely left for days, the ominous blue of ambulance lights flashing down our street too many times for one evening. But for a short, blissful time, we are eating out. Albeit with a sinkful of dirty dishes to tackle later.
Meal for two: £50
177B Blackstock Road