When the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak announced the Eat Out to Help Out scheme for August it was greeted with mixed feelings from the public, but with more than 10.5 million people eating out in the first week it looks like it was a success. Over 83,000 cafes, pubs, restaurants and coffee shops took part, ranging from the big multinationals like McDonalds through to the independent local cafes. The scheme gave diners 50% off their food bill, up to a maximum of £10.
Locally, it seemed as if Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were the new Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with so many places fully booked and rushed off their feet, which is exactly what was needed to kick-start the economy again.
Sadly, I did hear reports of customers getting cross with the waiting staff because they had to queue, and in some instances, had to wait for their food to be served. What they didn’t seem to appreciate is that social distancing meant that there was often only one chef in the kitchen. I also heard that some people were getting very cross and complaining on social media, just because they were unable to get a table.
We started off with a trip to the New Gower Hotel for supper, where we could sit out on the veranda as fortunately the weather was glorious. The hotel itself was fully booked with visitors from around the country, but the tables were all set well apart, so I felt very at ease.
Proprietor Linda Evans was on hand to welcome us – even with her mask on I could see that her eyes were smiling. Linda has a special knack of making her guests feel very welcome and special.
The waiters and waitresses were all wearing masks and had evidently been well trained in keeping all contact to a minimum. As it was all table service we had no need to enter the hotel at any time.
Chef Mark Evans is all geared up for young diners, with a special menu for them or the option of a smaller portion from the main menu. On this occasion we were joined by our daughter and grandson and as is the case with most people eating out with young ones, we arranged for Archie’s main course to be served with our starters – home-made tomato soup, creamy garlicky mushrooms and a smooth chicken liver pâté – there was a lot of passing round of plates and forks at this stage.
The terrace menu was perfect for an informal family supper, with the battered cod goujons and chips being a hit with both me and the 5-year old. The steak wrap and the slow roasted lamb were both declared a triumph, and I can only take their word for it as I wasn’t given a look in.
The following week after our morning walk from Sketty to the seafront, we took advantage of a sunny morning to have breakfast at The Secret.
This time it was just Simon and I and we tucked into a full English breakfast and a very healthy bowl of granola with fresh fruit and yoghurt (pic right). I’ll leave it to you to guess who ordered what. Sitting in the warm morning sunshine, with a good strong coffee I felt very much as if I was on holiday.
The social distancing was well managed, and we were asked to provide our details so that we could be put on the track and trace database. The tables were sanitised between customers and the staff were all masked.
We felt so comfortable with the arrangements that we returned later in the day for a family supper. Again, the correct protocol was being followed by all the staff. A couple of girls who thought that they would be clever and jump the queue to get drinks from the bar, and then nip into a recently vacated table were very quickly ejected by the maitre d’ – much to the waiting customers amusement.
The atmosphere at The Secret is relaxed and informal – the perfect sort of place to unwind after a hard day or even a particularly lazy one. Being set right on the seafront it is possible to imagine that you are holidaying abroad – especially when the evening was this hot.
I was delighted to hear that the Marina Market was to reopen, and so the following weekend we went down for a mooch. Later we stopped en famille at Swigg. This of course didn’t qualify for the Eat Out scheme as it was a Sunday.
The menu at Swigg had been pared back since reopening and it offers sausages in brioche rolls with a variety of toppings. It may not be fine dining, but it is extremely tasty. The chips have a groove in them so as to hold the maximum amount of sauce, which in my case was faggots and gravy. The sausage was huge and of the highest quality – good and meaty with just the right amount of cereal. The brioche bun was as light as the proverbial feather and wasn’t in the least bit sweet – I have an aversion to savoury things in sweet buns as purveyed by an American chain with a sinister clown.
Again, the sun was shining, and with all the people milling around the market and marina there was a distinct holiday atmosphere –it was the inspiration for our front cover this month.
Lastly, we spent a quiet evening having dinner a deux at Gigi Gao’s Favourite Authentic Chinese in the marina. It was our first indoor eating out experience since the beginning of the year, and I admit to feeling a little bit anxious – but my concerns were unfounded. Gigi has made sure that all the Covid etiquette is strictly adhered to – hand sanitiser on the way in, tables far apart, waiting staff all wearing masks – although of course Gigi had to take this to another level of elegance with not just a disposable mask but a lace yashmak too.
It was lovely to experience proper dining out, with other people around, and the associated buzz and chatter. The restaurant was busy, and the staff seemed genuinely pleased to be back, looking after their guests.
It goes without saying that the food was exceptional – there is a very good reason that Gigi won the Golden Chopsticks Award in 2018 as the best Oriental restaurant in Wales. Sadly, the competition didn’t take place this year, but I’m sure it will be back on for 2021.
The little steamed dumplings filled with a fragrant pork mince are a firm favourite with our family – these and a portion of crispy duck and pancakes are our standard starter. I suppose we should be a little more adventurous but as this was our first outing, we wanted the familiar and not the experimental.
Sizzling seafood with prawns and calamari along with chicken and noodles completed our meal – gigantic juicy prawns and succulent squid in a light gingery broth and tender pieces of chicken and vegetables with thick noodles – boy was I glad we had chosen Gigi’s for our first date night in months.
The beauty of the food at Gigi’s is that it is completely MSG free. I find that I feel quite unwell if I eat anything with Monosodium Glutamate; apparently the renowned Chinese chef Ken Hom also has a bad reaction to it so I’m in good company.
As we slowly begin to emerge from our enforced hibernation of six months, I’m looking forward to starting to meet up with friends and family – and hopefully in time we will get back to normal – or maybe a new kind of normal.
The New Gower Hotel, Bishopston SA3 3JT Tel: 01792 234111
The Secret, Mumbles Road, Brynmill SA2 0AY Tel: 01792 439220
Swigg, Maritime Museum, Maritime Quarter SA1 3RD Tel: 01792 466026
Gigi Gao’s Favourite Authentic Chinese, 18 & 23 Anchor Court, Victoria Quay, Maritime Quarter, SA1 3XA
Tel: 01792 653300