We were in two minds about reviewing any kind of restaurant delivery service during lockdown. It seems a little egregious to review a restaurant according to our normal judging criteria, so normal rules won’t apply to this one and there will be no score. But this one is certainly worth letting you know about, to the extent that the ‘Lorne at Home’ offering continues. (The restaurant itself is re-opening on 15 July).
We’ve always been fond of Lorne since it first opened in 2017 (we named it our favourite new restaurant that year). But it’s had a string of rotten luck: it had to close for 90 days in 2018 due to flooding, and now it faces the same Covid-19 challenge as all other restaurants. They launched ‘Lorne at Home’ in June and I gave it a whirl.
Having placed the order before the 9pm cut-off for delivery the next day, I was initially concerned if the package would actually arrive during the elected window. We’ve all been in situations where an electrician quotes an ETA of any time between 6am and midnight and you have to sit around all day wondering when they will arrive. Sod’s law dictates that the one moment you choose to step outside for a nanosecond to run some errand is the moment they turn up. But in this case the delivery package arrived with stunning accuracy. A 2pm delivery slot was selected and the food box arrived at 2.03pm. Not even Jack Bauer in 24 could cross a city with such punctuality. It was an impressive start.
Of course, the key challenge about any delivery service is how the food travels and survives transit. One of my favourite things about Lorne is their house aperitif – a delightful concoction of rosemary-infused white port, Madeira and green Chartreuse – which has been on the menu since the beginning. Alas, some of the aperitif started to leak from its pouch, and it was already a fairly small measure to start with. The cheesecake also lost some of its shape – what should have appeared like a perfectly triangular wedge turned up somewhat deformed. But it would be churlish to complain about such trivialities in the current circumstances.
And there are very nice touches. The wryly-drafted instructions to accompany your package (“grab a plant, any plant – put it on the table”) also contains a QR code allowing you to download the Lorne playlist from Spotify, so you can re-create at least some semblance of the restaurant’s ambience.
Ambience is one of those intangible aspects of the restaurant experience that becomes all the more noticeable when it’s absent: it’s not just the perfect coalescence of lighting, gentle music, foliage and furnishings, but the hubbub of chit-chat from fellow contented diners. No-one wants to feel like they’re dining in a library. This is probably the aspect that restaurateurs fear the most when they can open their doors again on or after 4 July – will there be any customers?
But at home there are no such concerns. It’s all about the food, the plant and the Lorne playlist.
Starting with salmon rillettes – a dish which merely needed to be decanted from the tub to the plate – this was a beautifully balanced combination of salmon, horseradish cream, pickled cucumber and dill.
Confit duck croquettes (with optional walnut ketchup) needed just 8 minutes of warming up in the oven. Mercifully, they didn’t lose their moisture in the re-cooking process.
Porchetta with sage and fennel stuffing also required minimal culinary skill in just warming it up and assembling the bed of sweet peas and jus. The pork and pea combo is as old as the pyramids and always works so well. Here, the inherent fat in the pork added flavour, as did the occasional explosion of heady sage.
For a vegetarian option I also tried the aubergine parmiagiana. Each layer of aubergine merged with the tomato and pecorino cheese, as any good parmiagiana should. It was warming and comforting, with a crunchy salad of green beans on the side.
The cheesecake’s structural integrity might have been compromised en route, but what it lacked slightly in presentation and form it made up for in flavour and texture. This was up there with my favourite cheesecakes – the ones that just dissolve in the mouth.
And all of this was sensibly priced too: excluding the delivery charge, the food and aperitif came to about £40 – probably about half what you would normally pay in the restaurant.
Whilst ‘Lorne at Home’ can never be a substitute for the full restaurant experience, this was thoroughly enjoyable and until the restaurant re-opens it gets our stamp of approval.
‘Lorne at Home’ is available from Thursday to Sunday each week for collection and delivery (delivery charge applies). You need to place your order by 9pm the day before collection or delivery. For menus and how to order go to their website: lornerestaurant.co.uk. The restaurant opens for dine-in service on 15 July.
76 Wilton Road
by J A Smith