We now have a ‘roadmap’ for exiting this third lockdown in the UK but until restaurants can re-open for al fresco dining on 12 April, and indoor dining from 17 May (assuming all goes to plan), food kits can still provide a semblance of the restaurant experience in our own homes. And so we continue our monthly series of home kit reviews!
As with our last set of reviews in February, there’s a bit of a health warning with these: the restaurants featured here change their menus regularly and so this can only give you a flavour of what to expect. Like any of our restaurant reviews, the kits were not gifted and the restaurants had no idea they were being reviewed. However, as there is no service or ambience to assess, they’re exempt from our usual restaurant grading system (well it wouldn’t be fair would it?). And this is just our subjective opinion. Follow the links included below to find out more information on each one.
This month we road-test the home kits of Stein’s, SOLA, The Angel at Hetton and the unique new offering L’Histoire d’un Soir.
Stein’s at Home
Order directly from https://www.rickstein.com/steins-at-home/. UK-wide delivery is an additional £7.95 via DPD. Deliveries every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
TV chefs with small restaurant empires may not be to everyone’s taste or evoke that much sympathy but I’ve had enjoyable experiences at Rick Stein’s Sandbanks and Barnes restaurants. I also found his jovial presence on his recent show about Cornwall a welcome distraction from all things Covid. Whilst his restaurants remain closed his Padstow HQ offers various food boxes available nationwide. Unsurprisingly, most are fish or seafood-focused but there are steak, Coq au Riesling and vegetarian alternatives.
All of the various food boxes are super easy to prepare. There are quick video tutorials on their website presented by Rick’s son Jack but the written instructions are clear enough.
On this occasion I went for the hake meal: a simple, reasonably-priced package (£45 for 2) comprising three courses. The package, inscribed with the words “from Cornwall with love,” arrived as expected without delay or any inconveniently wide 6am to 6pm delivery window.
Starting with smoked mackerel pâté on toasted sourdough, this just required gentle toasting of the bread and hey presto. The abundance of salad leaves on the side was actually enough for more than one meal.
The grilled hake piperade was also extremely simple to warm up and assemble – we’re talking entry-level home cook here. And the finished result was delicious. Hake can be a little bland by itself but it was joyously enhanced by pimentón mayonnaise, piperade sauce and shavings of serrano. Again, a generous portion of potatoes too.
And to finish, the ultimate dessert when stuck at home and pining for a gastropub: a classic sticky toffee pudding. They recommend microwaving this and that’s probably the easiest thing to do (indeed, can anyone wait that long?). Topped with a spoonful of Cornish clotted cream, or perhaps trying your hand at a quenelle, what more could you possibly want?
64 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 4QQ
The ‘omnivore’ and ‘vegetarian’ food boxes are priced at £89 per person. Orders can be placed via Restokit (https://www.restokit.co.uk/collections/sola) before midnight on the Sunday before intended delivery. Delivery available within the M25 on Thursdays, nationwide on Fridays.
SOLA (where Soho meets LA) only opened in late 2019 but is already making waves. Chef Victor Garvey’s new Californian-themed venture won its first Michelin star in the recently published 2021 guide. Whilst the physical restaurant wasn’t open for long before Covid restrictions came in you can at least try either the ‘Omnivore’ or ‘Vegetarian’ food box at home via Restokit.
At £89 for the ‘Omnivore’ box this is at the dearer end of the spectrum, and again the value question presents itself when there is still some work to do (these are after all ‘finishing off’ kits) but the quality of SOLA’s ingredients justifies the price tag.
Chalk stream trout was fresh and delicious, counterbalanced by a beautiful dill bavarois, though the bavarois and keta caviar arrived in the same tub and consequently got to know each other a little too well in transit. It was difficult to present elegantly (as my picture shows) – but then I’m not a professional chef.
Not every course requires prep and indeed Garvey provides a course that requires no cooking at all: a Spanish-inspired chilled almond and garlic soup with smoked mussels and tomato coulis. This form of ‘ajo blanco’ whisked me away to Andalusia and brought back memories of holidays (sigh).
This was followed by a delicious scallop diplomat: the large scallop came perfectly trimmed and just required 15 minutes of cooking within its shell. Infused with lemon thyme and truffle, this was particularly special.
And I can’t praise the A5 Kagoshima Wagyu Chateaubriand enough! After resting, my knife barely had to do anything to cut off buttery slivers of luxurious beef. The pepper sauce (oh the sauce!), Yukon gold potato oozing melted gorgonzola and radiccio agrodolce (warmed through in a saucepan in white balsamic) were lovely accompaniments. This was perhaps the best dish to have graced my kitchen table in all of lockdowns 1, 2 or 3.
I was quite full by this point – the struggle very much real – but soldiered on with the Manjari chocolate croustillant. I felt no shame in eating this straight out of the tub provided (you’re at home so who’s going to judge?). I wasn’t sure what the gold leaf added but then, in lockdown, when else are you going to get such treats?
All in all Garvey succeeds in providing a menu of high-end comfort food with a west coast twist. Apparently only 40 of these boxes are available a week so order early to avoid disappointment.
The Angel at Home
Back Lane, Hetton, Skipton BD23 6LT
Two menus are available each week. Each menu is for two people at £120. Deliveries by APC available nationwide every Friday. Orders to be made via their website, all subject to availability: https://angelhetton.co.uk/
I’ve enjoyed Michael Wignall’s cooking twice before: firstly at Gidleigh Park (back when it had two Michelin stars) and more recently when he made a guest appearance at The Game Bird. I was particularly excited to learn he had taken over The Angel at Hetton in 2018 – indeed won a Michelin star in his first year of ownership – but when Covid struck it delayed Palate’s plans to go and visit in person. So I had high expectations for his home kit offering, all the way from the Yorkshire Dales for a flat £10 delivery fee.
Starting with confit trout, this released itself from the oily pouch with ease (not unlike a newborn replicant in Blade Runner). To accompany it, a delicious chicken and squid consommé warmed up in a pan and dribbled over the plate. Serving these lip-smacking, umami-laden chicken sauces with fish seems to have become the rage (arguably following Cornerstone’s influence) but always makes for a compelling dish. The confit swede and swede gel weren’t overly bitter but complemented it all very well.
Hasselback potato on smoked potato puree with cheese sauce and chive oil managed to be both reactionary and progressive. Essentially, the flavours were a refined version of cheese and onion crisps combined with all the best fondues you’ve ever eaten. The potato puree, once reheated, retained the smoothness and consistency of Robuchon’s classic dish. A true triumph of a course. Who would’ve thought the humble potato could bring such joy in lockdown?
The loin of venison was very easy to cook, a delight to carve and even more delightful to eat. It perhaps just needs a note that plenty of seasoning and fat in the pan is required which only the home cook can add.
Then, a plentiful selection of cheese from The Courtyard Dairy comprising Baron Bigod Brie, Sparkenhoe Blue and Montgomery’s Cheddar. I kept some for lunch the next day.
The rhubarb and pistachio cake dessert was a test of my own cheffy presentation skills but I think Wignall’s diagram helped (check out the picture to see if you agree). Even the amateur home cook can feel like a Michelin hero, just for one day.
If there are any criticisms there’s a fair degree of packaging detritus and the dishes, at least for rustic home cooks such as yours truly, are a little fiddly to finish. Though that’s very much a first world complaint when 90% of the hard work has been done for you in selecting the ingredients, conceptualising the dish, prepping the ingredients and providing hand-drawn diagrams. If this menu is anything to go by as a representative sample of the restaurant then I cannot wait to go post-lockdown (they’re re-opening 20 May and taking reservations now!).
L’Histoire d’Un Soir
Finally, we mention a very different kind of home kit which focuses more on decorative dining accoutrements. L’Histoire d’Un Soir is relatively new to the market in the UK, having first established itself in France. In non-lockdown times they organised and hosted themed supper clubs. Their current mission is to provide those elements of the dining experience which are often taken for granted in a restaurant but may be harder to achieve at home, such as candles, glassware, napkins, dried flowers, tableware and that indescribable, romantic ‘je ne sais quoi.’ Their ‘Tablescape in A Box’ is available for £110 and can be delivered anywhere in the UK.
This set of home kit reviews was last updated on 1 March 2021.
Cover photo of SOLA courtesy of Sonya Metzler. All other photos by J A Smith.