There have been a lot of things that have surprised, shocked and overwhelmed me in the last year or so. Me and the rest of the world, right? One of them – while not quite on the some scale as some of the other stuff going on, but still important – is the way food and drink businesses have just kept on going.
Against all the odds, through lockdowns, tiers – and tears – and endless uncertainty, there’s been a kind of dogged determination that has shone through from chefs, restaurateurs, street food traders, entrepreneurs who run their businesses from their kitchens and everyone else in the sector. Basically, they’ve refused to give up.
For many of them, it would have been easy to take their ball home and refuse to play. The word ‘pivot’ has put in more appearances on our beloved interweb than Matt Hancock has behind that podium, and in the same way that we take most of what our health secretary says with a pinch of salt, it’s kind of lost its impact.
But when you think about it, what some of these businesses have done is really quite impressive and must have been as hard for them personally as it has practically. Take the launch of a meal box idea. It sounds simple enough – just replace plates for boxes, organise a delivery or collection system and there you go.
But when you’re a chef who prides yourself on turning out great-tasting food, arranging it into a piece of art on a plate, and seeing first-hand the reaction of those tasting it, packing it into a box and trusting it to a complete amateur who will then splash pictures of ‘your’ food all over social media not only robs you of lots of the joys of cheffing, but brings a whole new world of worries.
Nevertheless, it hasn’t stopped them. And lockdown three has brought a whole new raft of offerings from people who undoubtedly miss cooking hugely but also, if we’re honest, probably can’t afford to have zero revenue for yet another three months.
If you over-think it and how many food and drink businesses may not emerge from this, it really is sad. So let’s focus instead on the positives, and another brilliant addition to the ‘at-home’ dining scene in Coventry and Warwickshire.
You may remember that last year Jamie and I finally made it to Gourmet Food Kitchen – a pop-up restaurant set up by local chef Tony Davies at FarGo Village. When he’s allowed to actually serve up his food on site, Gourmet Food Kitchen is fully booked every weekend and for very good reason too. When we went we were wowed by the quality of the food, made even more wonderful by such an unassuming setting, and the fact it’s also incredibly reasonably priced.
Fast forward several months, and Tony’s decided to offer up his experience for us to try at home. We ordered the first week he did it after spotting the menu and thinking it sounded right up our street. At £30 a head for three courses and bread and butter it’s a bargain, and it can’t be just me who thinks it’s great because he’s on week three and selling out each time.
We started with Devonshire crab bisque and rouille – a garlicky sauce that’s a bit like mayonnaise and is traditionally served with that French classic Bouillabaisse. The bisque was what had got Jamie’s attention when I first read the menu out to him, and didn’t disappoint.
With one spoonful you could easily imagine that lockdown isn’t a thing and we haven’t been stuck in the land-locked Midlands for weeks, instead imagining you’re tucked in a bistro by the sea, either here or abroad, and enjoying the fruits of a labour of love that has seen the shells of our crustacean friends transformed into a thick, velvety soup whose intensity of flavour reflects the time and effort that has gone into making it.
Teamed with a bread roll and the generous dollop of garlicky rouille, plus the garnish of chives put in to help us try to go some way to recreating the masterpieces Tony serves up at FarGo, and it was a strong start.
If you haven’t tried a ‘finish this off at home’ box yet, take it from me that the mains are usually more challenging. There’s usually a bit more cooking involved, and more elements to a dish. Hats off to all the chefs out there endlessly coming up with dishes that they can do most of the work for us, yet still let us at home try our hand at a little bit of cooking without ruining all their hard work.
Tony provides a video via his Facebook page where he shows you how to reheat, cook, and present everything for the meal you’ve ordered. It’s probably wise to watch it through and get an idea before you start yourself – especially if you’re not a confident cook. But don’t forget, most of the work’s done for you, and at the end of the day you really can plate it however you like so don’t get too hung up on worrying and just enjoy the experience.
Our main course was Asian spiced pork belly with carrot puree, bok choi, fondant potato, cashews and oriental sauce. Aside from pan searing the pork belly before it and the fondant potato went in the oven, it was a simple case of heating everything up then arranging on the plate with the garnish. And boy, was it worth the effort…
The thick slab of pork belly is probably some of the nicest I’ve tasted in a long time. Infused with spices including cumin, coriander and fennel seed, the meat was aromatic without being spicy and tender and succulent, with rendered fat that melted away in your mouth. The carrot puree had a slight spice, while the sauce was fragrant and velvety, without being cloying in any way and the bok choi brought a refreshing note and a
On paper, the whole plate could have been too much – too sweet, too sticky, too fatty. But in our dining room on a gloomy Friday night, it was just right. Gorgeous to look at, with rich, wintry colours. Well balanced in flavour and texture, with a homemade pork scratching and cashews adding crunch. The kind of meal you’re still talking about the next day.
After a great main course, we weren’t sure dessert would quite live up to it and agreed to share a portion. A simple bread and butter pudding with cinnamon creme anglaise, we thought it would probably be nice and homely, but not necessarily anything to write home about.
We were wrong.
Most of us have eaten bread and butter pudding a fair few times in our lives and it’s one of those staples that you’d rarely order in a restaurant, but this dessert may have changed my ways.
Light, moist, and delicate, yet simultaneously hearty, homely and the kind of comfort food we all need now more than ever, the pudding itself would have won me over. But drape it in a creamy, cinnamon-laced homemade custard and you’ve got the kind of dessert that sends you off into a happy little place with each mouthful you take.
Also, the kind of addictive dish that has you fighting with your other half for the last mouthful, when lesser puddings would have you politely allowing them to have it.
Yes, it was a good meal. Packaged nicely, priced keenly, prepared expertly, and a great showcase of what Tony does, even if he can’t be there to see people enjoying it in person.
And yes, I know I’m being overwhelmingly positive about yet another meal we’ve enjoyed at home. Maybe I’m just easily pleased and endlessly positive. Or maybe it’s that I do my research and just don’t order rubbish food. But either way, you’ll only know if you try for yourself…
[We paid in full for our Gourmet Food Kitchen At Home box. Visit Gourmet Food Kitchen’s Facebook page for more info or to order yours.