Victoria Hull ditches the scooter boys and gets a proper Saturday night takeaway instead
It’s too cold to go out and find a restaurant for this column. So this is the plan: decide what to eat, puff up the sofa cushions, light a fire and some candles. I start browsing Deliveroo. Somewhat worryingly their algorithm leads me straight to a selection of fine wine shops. Wine and cheese in front of the telly? Nice. But we could buy wine and cheese from a supermarket. Better to choose something exotic that would be difficult to cook. I carry on browsing.
A Millennial relation recently told me he always orders a Deliveroo from a particular healthy restaurant near Notting Hill. I try searching “healthy” and “notting hill” and get lost in a labyrinth of choice. Which of these healthy restaurants is his healthy restaurant? Should I order salad? So many salads to choose from. I’ve no idea if any of these places are good and anyway, what’s the point of ordering salad? Salad doesn’t even need cooking.
It’s 6.30pm. Teenager 2 is preparing herself for an 18th birthday party and she’s off to buy nail varnish. I’ve been sitting at this computer browsing Deliveroo for so long my bum hurts. It’s hard and boring work. I walk down the street with her to Superdrug. And stop off at Waitrose for a bottle of wine.
By 7.30pm, I’m back at the computer with a rather nice glass of organic Californian Chardonnay to cheer me on my way.
What about Asian? That could be healthy.
I receive a call from my sister. Then I phone my father, who’s in hospital. And I need to ring my mother. Soon it’s 9pm. I join Teenager 1 and Teenager 3, who are chatting in the sitting room. I haven’t puffed up the cushions or lit any candles but Tom has got a fire going and I’m on large glass number two so things are looking cosy. We discuss Deliveroo.
“It’s the pinnacle of all delivery services,” says Teenager 1. He knows because he had a Saturday job at a posh fish-and-chip shop. He explains that the restaurant downloads the Deliveroo app and displays it on a tablet by the servery. They input the average time it takes to prepare each dish. Deliveroo sends a rider for an order at exactly the time it should be ready. They charge the restaurant a percentage that varies but can up to 30 per cent if they use rival delivery services.
Deliveroo is a UK company but this year it’s hoping US giant Amazon will be allowed by UK competition regulators to plough $575 million into it. Deliveroo argues it’s “helping restaurants to grow their businesses, creating more work for riders and increasing choice for customers”. Its last investment round was in 2017 and in 2018, according to their latest accounts, it lost £185 million. Big investment and losses are of course Big Tech’s way of undercutting competitors. We remember sympathetically a local company 20 years ago called Deliverance. Deliverance was trying to do the same thing as Deliveroo, but back then people didn’t have smartphones. Deliveroo’s tech means they don’t have to pay anyone to answer phone calls. Nor do Deliveroo pay a single delivery rider unless there’s an order to deliver. It’s the gig economy.
Wagamama was Deliveroo’s first big restaurant client. “What about Wagamama?” I ask the family. I don’t actually want to go and eat there and it would take a whole day to brew the Asian stock for a Japanese noodle soup – to find a proper butcher who’ll give me bones, and source the right ingredients. “No,” says Teenager 1, who has eaten a sandwich at his university hall of residence and is now en route to a friend’s gig. “No, you need to experience Wagamama. You want to be in there. It’s great.”
Having all of west London’s restaurants to choose from is proving difficult and I’m losing heart. But it’s OK because glass number three is at my elbow. Teenager 2 joins us in the sitting room, nails polished and hair straightened. She eats a bowl of yesterday’s Irish stew. Mmm, that would have been quick and easy.
What about a local chicken shop? There are tens of those. We could get something from the teenagers’ favourite, Chicken Kitchen, on the next street. It’s even closer with Deliveroo – just a click away. So I click, click, and click again, a massive order: Chicken Kitchen’s signature Caribbean Punch and Fully Loaded Burgers, Fried Plantain (Teenager 1 points out that I pronounce plantain wrong – it should sound like mountain, not Montaigne.) We also order Sweet Potato Fries, Wing Roulette, Rice n Peas, more Fries, and oh yes, remember I was looking for something healthy – Side Salad.
My phone pings and, in that insistent way that texts arrive nowadays, pings again. “Your order has been cancelled,” reads the text. “Chicken Kitchen don’t have the ingredients.”
I’m slightly befuddled. It’s 10pm and three of us are now very hungry. We think of the best takeaway on the street – a brilliant Caribbean called Ochi, famous for its curry goat and dumplings. It’s a tiny shop with white-tiled walls stuck with autographed photos of celebrity fans – Wu Tang Clan, Lennox Lewis, Busta Rhymes, Usher, Rihanna.
I want the Hard Food – a side dish of boiled dumpling, yam and plantain, but Deliveroo’s website says: “Hard Food only with Large.” I click “Small” optimistically, and it works, so all seems fine. The phone rings. It’s a girl at Ochi, someone real, actually speaking to me, explaining how the Hard Food only comes with Large portions. We do without the Hard Food.
We order two Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas, Small; one Brown Stew Fish, Small; one Fried Dumpling and one extra Rice and Peas. There is a side salad but I’ve lost interest in healthy. Just 15 minutes later at 10.35pm it arrives.
As I write this, we don’t remember the poor rider who delivered it. I was finally lighting the candles when he arrived, so I didn’t meet him. Tom says he wasn’t wearing a red helmet like the little animated moped rider on the Deliveroo site, so he must have been on a bicycle. You see gangs of riders loitering with intent at corners ready to click their phone on an order before their mates click on it and get the gig. I have clicked £4 tip. I hope he gets it.
It’s 11pm and we finally sit down to eat. The chicken is so good it might not be battery farmed. There’s a whole leg in each portion. Rice and Peas means rice, brown with sauce, and flecked with kidney beans and the odd soft slice of red pepper. The plantain is solid. The brown fish stew is brown and excellent at soaking up the wine; it’s slightly dangerous with bones.
“It was so good. It really was,” says Teenager 3. But did we need Deliveroo? I passed Ochi at 7.30pm on the way back from Waitrose with my bottle of wine. I could have picked up our food then.
The following week we order from Ochi the old-fashioned way. We call them and speak to the nice girl, who gives us advice. We choose exciting things like fish fritters and the curried goat – oh, so good. We lay the table and take the dog on a walk down to Ochi, all of five minutes away. The order is ready and waiting and we hardly have enough time to study Ochi’s wall of fame or read a framed poem beside the counter about the dangers of cocaine. Fifteen minutes later we are back home, all the hungrier for our refreshing stroll, and Ochi gets to keep all our money, not just two thirds of it.
Deliveroo? Never, ever again.