Five meal kits to order to your door
- Credit: Kerstin Rodgers-msmarmitelover
Restaurants are closed, many never to be seen again. Chefs, front of house and kitchen staff are losing their jobs and the incredible rise of the UK's food scene over the last decade has been abruptly halted in its tracks. Will it ever recover?
I was only able to host one supper club in 2020 and pondered creating something similar to the food boxes I did for the NHS last March and April. Many have pivoted to online tastings, supper clubs and meal kits - those I tried were infinitely better than supermarket cook-chill meals which are often over sweet, under-spiced and bland. I've always been a bit snooty about meal kits. 'Why don't people just learn to cook?' I sniffed. Fast-forward to months of cooking for myself alone during the pandemic and there comes a point when you are sick of your own food.
Kits are fresher than a takeaway and change the dreary lockdown routine. Some ingredients are part-cooked; some raw. The food hasn't stewed in a large vat for days waiting to be dished into plastic. Many companies opt for reusable packaging to avoid creating waste. And with kits, you can add a new skill and recipe to your repertoire. They make adventurous cooking look easy.
Who knows if these innovations will survive post pandemic but here is a list of some I've tried and loved. All were vegetarian and for two people.
Noble House Prepared
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A Christmas dinner meal kit. The portion sizes were generous, feeding five, the seasoning spot on, and there were a few ideas that I would imitate.
Contents: wild mushroom pie; pumpkin and goat's cheese pithivier; parsnips and carrots; roast potatoes; balsamic glaze brussels sprouts; red cabbage; creamed leeks; cranberry sauce; mashed swede with parmesan crust; Christmas pudding, brandy butter and coffee.
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Ease of preparation: Some containers were for oven cooking, others for the micro-wave, some on the stove top. I put the oven stuff in together. The timings worked well. Everything was clearly explained.
Price: From £15.75 a head plus £6.99 shipping
At home brunch kits from the London restaurant chain, delivered on Fridays.
Contents: a brunch kit with ingredients for baked eggs, chickpea ragu, yoghurt, parsley, sourdough bread, muffin mix, cold-pressed ginger, orange and carrot juice and gourmet coffee. Really delicious, very much a treat.
Ease of prep: You add your own eggs and milk.
This Brighton based outfit work with several restaurants, devising ways to make their in-house restaurant meals, easily cookable at home.
Contents: Vegan Laksa kit : Laksamania’s Vegan Melaka Curry broth, rice vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, tofu puff and mock prawns, sliced chillies, fried onions and salad. I also tried Goemen ramen.
Ease of Prep: instructions: heat up the broth, blanch the noodles and beansprouts, add toppings and garnishes. Easy to perform and an introduction to how to make your own Asian food.
Price: For London, from £10 a head plus £5 delivery Minimum spend £30
Flamkuch by Amelie:
This Cambridge based restaurant are sending out 'flatpacks' of their French 'pizza' from the Alsace region.
Contents: 4 thin bases; creme fraiche, mozzarella cheese; mushrooms, onion; pesto sauce. A very tasty and quick skinny pizza.
Ease of prep: Instructions were simple, only the oven was needed.
Price: From £16.95 plus £8 shipping.
La Tua pasta:
Contents: Black truffle tortelloni with truffle butter. Serves one as a main, 2 as a starter.
Ease of Prep: Probably the easiest as was no different to buying from the supermarket, however the quality was higher: I find supermarket fresh pasta rather like hydrated cardboard. A generous amount of sauce.
Price: From £5 per person + £5 delivery for orders under £30. Discovery boxes with five pasta dishes from £30.
I've also tried a local 'delivery supper club'. https://www.sycamoresmyth.com/ by Haringey-based chef Clare Heal a delicious alternative to a night out, and good for a special occasion. You receive a four course menu with instructions, with the option of adding a cheese course by The Fromage Cat, and wine by Emile Wines.
I met Clare when as a journalist she did a piece on one of my first supper clubs. Explaining her change of profession, she says: "I took voluntary redundancy in 2014 and got a retraining allowance which part-paid for a year at Leith's cookery school. I graduated in 2016 and did 'stages' at restaurants like Bocca di Lupo. I've started this delivery supper club because to be honest I'm lazy and don't want to work Saturday nights. But it's also the perfect solution for lockdown."
One course was fresh tortelloni filled with dolcelatte and pumpkin; clearly her fresh pasta skills benefited from working at Bocca di Lupo. The portions were generous and the instructions clear, giving tips on how to plate up. It's also a way of learning how to construct a dish. All containers are biodegradable: each component is in a tiny plastic tub and the main ingredient of each dish is in a paper box. The ingredients themselves were hyper seasonal and from good suppliers such as Natoora. The downside is that you don't get that special supper club atmosphere of mixing with other people.
Contents: Radicchio Salad: roasted beets, blood orange, orange and Vermouth vinegar dressing, toasted hazelnuts. Pumpkin and dolcelatte tortelloni browned lemon butter, parmesan, crispy sage leaves. Four mushroom ragu: slow cooked with red wine, seville orange zest and fennel, gremolata crumb, potato and celeriac dauphinoise, braised kale. Vanilla Pannacotta: rhubarb roasted with blood orange, hazelnut tuile.
Price: £35 for one, £65 for two, cheeseboard £12 and wines £29.
Another resourceful solution to the closure of the events industry is remote tastings. Samples are delivered to each participant who is led by an expert in analysing the tastes.
Wine tasting with Serena G
She sends a range of wine from sparkling, to white, rose, red and dessert - vacuum-pressured samples in small bottles, posted the day before, so the wine did not oxidise. For larger households, she uses full sized bottles.
Atmosphere: increasingly jolly as the tasting wore on. The other attendees felt like old friends by the end despite being merely a pixellated image on my laptop. The wine provoked nostalgic yearnings of trips abroad, laughter and anecdotes aplenty, just like a real dinner party.
Price: From £36 a head for full sized bottles.
To book the next one March 26 at 7pm, book at: https://tinyurl.com/4zxhdn6q
Gimblett zoom cheese tasting
Host: Francis Gimblett of Gimblett Cheese and the cheesemaker of the month.
Samples: Every month you are sent a British cheese pack by an artisanal cheesemaker. This month the cheesemaker is Martin Gott of Cumbria who makes St James Cheese from ewe's milk. You can meet and question the cheesemaker - all part of the Campaign for British Artisan Cheese.
The pack includes access to the interactive show, 60g portions of each of two featured cheeses, tasting card, drink instructions, recipe instructions, packaging and next day tracked postage
Price: £9.50 per cheese pack
You can also buy a cheese and wine tasting game from Gimblett, costing £57.60 to share with others.
Chocolate tasting with Jennifer Earle
Host: Jennifer Earle, founder of Chocolate tours (I've been on one of her tours, it was full of history, sweet treats and visited parts of London I never knew existed, a fantastic gift).
Samples: hour-long tasting themes every month with special guests. The next is with Martha Collison on Mother's Day, March 14. I took part in the filled chocolate tasting. You are given six exquisitely hand-made artisanal chocolates from different makers, tasting wheel/notes and a recipe.