[Disclosure – one of our meals was complimentary for the purposes of this review but we paid for the other one]
There’s a reason why most serious chefs don’t drink copious amounts of wine before they’ve finished plating up their dishes and sending them to the table.
You will find that reason at the very bottom of this post where what should have been a beautifully-presented dessert courtesy of the brand new Antona at Home delivery service was rendered more befitting of a child’s birthday party. For that, Andreas, I am eternally sorry.
Alcohol consumption aside, if I’ve learned one thing from my various lockdown restaurant meals at home, it’s that plating up like a proper chef is far more difficult than it looks, but is a hell of a lot of fun trying to get it right.
In case you missed the launch of one of the latest delivery services from one (well, two) of the country’s top restaurants, then let me present Antona at Home. Created in the wake of Covid-19, it’s the at-home service from the team behind Simpsons in Birmingham and The Cross in Kenilworth, bringing together food from both restaurants alongside the experience of their owner, Andreas Antona.
The same concept applies as with the Elite Bistro at Home meal I wrote about, and others that are yet to appear on this blog. Check out the menu, order your choices, add wine if you like, and then lo and behold, your dinner – carefully cooked and prepared by top chefs – appears at your front door.
All that’s left is for you to reheat is as per their instructions and take care of that small matter of the presentation. Before you get to the bottom of this post, I’ll get our defence of our horrific presentation skills in quick. The only excuse we have (apart from the wine) is that the videos of the presentation hadn’t been uploaded to social media when we tried Antona at Home, so we were pretty much ‘winging’ it. And yes, it shows.
First up was Jamie’s salmon rillette. A fresh, light starter of poached salmon with a wasabi and buttermilk sauce, plus chive oil, smoked almonds and cucumber balls as well as a frisse garnish. Delicate salmon, its flavours gently teased out with the addition of dill and lemon, while the chive oil wasn’t just there to add a funky look for all the Instagrammers out there, but brought an extra dimension of flavour to an already great dish.
If a delicate, salmon starter was somewhat out of character for Jamie to order, a meat and fish-free cajun-spiced butternut squash dish served with pecorino custard and dill and yoghurt dressing was a pretty unusual choice for me too.
The kind of dish I wish I could make myself for a light lunch but will undoubtedly never achieve since I can’t make sweet custard using Bird’s powder, let alone a savoury version, this is somehow autumnal yet summery all at the same time.
The tender, slightly sweet spiced squash, would have been a delight on its own but the salty, savoury and deliciously smooth custard elevated it from something you could cook at home to a delight produced by experts. Add a dill and yoghurt dressing and some crunchy, toasted pine nuts and there’s a winning starter for you.
Perhaps predictably, Jamie had chosen the most meaty, substantial dish on the menu. Like every dish we’ve tried from one of these restaurant boxes, it may have sounded simple on a website menu, but the reality was more complex, more tasty, and well, just more.
Much like my husband, the ox cheek was tender and yielding yet simultaneously robust, packing a meaty punch in terms of flavour (okay that last bit isn’t really like my husband at all, but you get the idea). The braising liquor served with it was a rich gloss that draped over it and pooled around it with all its concentrated flavour.
Add to that a smooth, sexy celeriac puree and a small pile of slightly bitter, crunchy chicory, Oxford blue cheese and walnuts and you’ve got yourself a great combination.
For me, a Thai-style chicken ballotine stuffed with Thai green-flavoured chicken mousse. Probably the more aesthetically pleasing of our two dishes, it came served with what looked like a painstakingly-constructed potato terrine, garlic mushrooms and a chicken sauce that I would happily have had a few more portions of.
The danger of dine at home menus is there’s no need to hold back on the wine. The waiter’s not watching, there’s no taxi ride home to add to any nausea, and any extra bottles are coming from your own – free – stash rather than an expensive restaurant cellar.
It’s for that reason that the pictures below do not do justice to the effort that had gone into our desserts but please trust me when I say they tasted pretty blimin great. My miso and passionfruit cheesecake was simple and clean in taste.
I couldn’t detect too much of a miso flavour, though that’s more likely to be down to my uneducated palate and too much vino rather than it actually needing any adjustment. And while the addition of white chocolate aero and a passionfruit jam didn’t necessarily help us in the presentation stakes, it added extra sweetness and a bit of a tang to balance out the whole dish.
For Jamie, the BFG chocolate cake. A hung of chocolate sponge served with vanilla custard, dark chocolate and kirsch ganache, and a sour cherry puree, with some brandy-soaked cherries for good measure.
If you look at how this is meant to look, you will agree it is a thing of beauty. Ours, on the other hand, resembles a four-year-old’s art project. Fortunately, pretty presentation is not what restaurants like The Cross and Simpsons survive on alone.
Yes, pretty they are. But it’s the flavours of their food that win them awards and rave reviews, and trust me when I say there was plenty on this plate of chocolatey delight. Jamie pondered on whether the sponge was a tiny bit dry, but once piled high with custard, ganache and puree it was more than moist enough for both of us
And so, with chocolate on our faces and wine stains on our teeth, we savoured the two-second walk from our table to our bed, vowing to watch more closely the next time we’re allowed to sit at a chef’s table or watch an open kitchen and see how they get that plating so perfect. Oh, and to order a piping bag and nozzle just in case there’s ever the need to present custards nicely for this blog.
Seriously though, I can’t fault Antona at Home. Easy to order, a constantly-changing menu, great-tasting food, and plenty of information on what you’re eating, how to prepare it, and how to present it.
Of course, while the instructions are there you don’t necessarily have to follow them. That’s the joy of this kind of thing. As well as being free to wear what you want, drink what you want, and choose the soundtrack, you can present the food however you fancy.
So if, like us, you enjoy your desserts like a primary school child, that’s absolutely okay. Just make sure you savour every mouthful.