I’ll ‘fess up now. This post is at least three months too late. You see, like lots of other people, I naively thought that by this point in 2020, we would all be back enjoying our favourite restaurants and their food exactly how it’s meant to be served – ie in situ.
But it seems I was overly optimistic. When I ordered a delivery from Elite Bistro at Home back in June, it was a way of brightening up lockdown, supporting a restaurant, and finally getting my hands on some of the creations from the only and only Gary Usher and his team.
I didn’t write about it at the time. Life was chaotic, I was trying to keep my own business afloat, and as I say I kind of thought that by the time I wrote the post there wouldn’t be much need for this kind of ‘at home’ dining from restaurants because they’d be open again – albeit with extra measures in place – and would be able to start trying to claw back a tiny bit of what they’ve lost in 2020.
How wrong was I? As I write this, the hospitality sector is in crisis. Months of closure, more months of extra measures, a 10pm curfew and now even further measures in parts of the country that have undoubtedly sounded the death knell for many an independent business.
I don’t profess to hold the answer to their woes, or for this tiny little blog to be more than a drop in the ocean of what they need to survive, but it seems to me that a tiny bit of support from us all could go some way to helping at least some of them get through this.
With that in mind, let me finally tell you about Elite Bistro at Home. It remains one of mine and Jamie’s most memorable lockdown meals and was on the list to order again purely to satisfy our own gluttony before it became even more important to help support a business that’s just had the proverbial rug pulled right out from under it.
Like many of the home delivery options out there, Elite Bistro at Home gives you the chance to try some of their top quality food, prepared by their own chefs and carefully packaged up ready for you to finish off and assemble, all in the comfort of your own home.
To say the menu is appealing is a bit of an understatement, and since we ordered there have been more dishes added and others tweaked. It’s reasonably priced, easy to order, and simple enough to execute for even the likes of me to pull off (okay, Jamie did most of it but I reckon I could have managed if I’d had to). Not only do you get a full set of instructions, but there are a whole range of videos on Instagram from Gary Usher showing you exactly what to do.
If you’re going to do something like this, you really should do it properly, so Jamie and I decided to go all out and order far more than we needed. Wine in hand (from our local wine merchants Gallachers of Rugby) we opened our feast with a sharing starter of burrata with a charred spring onion dressing and homemade fennel and chilli barley crisps.
It looks simple, it sounds simple, and it was simple. Excellent ingredients, emphasised with a well balanced dressing and, other than that, left well alone. I’m also fairly sure if you could buy those crisps in the shops they would sell out regularly.
The burrata would have been plenty, but as we were doing it properly we had also ordered a second starter. Octopus with sunflower seed puree, salsa macha, cucumber and lime.
If, like me, you think that something like octopus cannot be as good at home as in a restaurant, I defy you to try this and maintain that view. With all the heavy lifting already done, all that was left was for us to pop it in the grill, warm up the puree, and try to copy a proper chef’s presentation.
It goes without saying that it was delicious. How the texture of the octopus was as good as if it had just come out of professional kitchen, despite the fact it had travelled halfway across the country and been finished off by a bunch of amateurs I will never know. All I know is I wish we’d ordered two portions, not just one. And it can’t just be me who thinks Elite’s octopus is a winner – it’s still on the menu just in a slightly different incarnation, so you too can try it.
Still in the spirit of going all out, despite being tempted by main courses like braised featherblade of beef, which I understand is one of the most popular dishes going, or confit duck leg, we couldn’t resist an Aubrey Allen 50-day aged sirloin of beef.
Again for two, it was another dish that relied on quality ingredients and quality prep, leaving only the simplest final steps to turn it into a restaurant-standard meal.
Lucky for me, Jamie is pretty good at cooking steak anyway, but the instructions and video ensured it was perfect. It was teamed with a red wine sauce that apparently takes them a couple of days to make and possibly the nicest carrot I’ve ever had, braised in chicken stock and butter to intensify the flavour and create the perfect texture.
The steak came with an epic cauliflower cheese made with Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese and we also ordered some fine beans with Vadouvan butter (no, I didn’t know what it was either but it’s basically infused with spices) and sunflower seeds.
The simplest of dishes but brilliant nonetheless. I think Elite have hit the spot when it comes to these kind of dine at home boxes. Take great ingredients, and prepare them in a way that you create dishes that are virtually impossible to ruin in the final stages – even by people like me. That way you guarantee the food ends up being served as you’d like, and people like me get to have a lovely dinner that they feel they contributed to in some small way.
To finish, we shared a classic Yorkshire Parkin with butterscotch sauce and clotted cream. An homage to Elite’s northern roots and the perfect combination of finesse and indulgence.
I’m waxing lyrical again, I know. But I doubt there’s a person in this country that will disagree. Elite Bistro at Home was borne out of necessity, and as it continues its life it has become even more important to the future of the restaurant group. But all that aside, it’s bloody good food and a way for you to get the tiniest of tastes of what these guys do no matter where you are in the country.
There are plenty of people out there who will point out that having to finish off your own meal at home, trying to mimic a trained chef’s presentation, tucking in at your own dining table and then having to do the washing up yourself isn’t quite the same as the restaurant experience.
No shit, Sherlock. Of course it’s not the same. But it’s a close second. So instead of focusing on what this kind of treat isn’t, let’s try looking at what it is.
A great way of trying food that has had the same hours of prep and careful cooking put into it as you’d enjoy in a restaurant, whilst simultaneously supporting a great business, and doing it all in your slippers. Go on, give it a go, and do you own bit to help these guys in their toughest time yet.
[We paid in full for our Elite Bistro at Home order back in June. The menu has changed since then so check out their website]