Leave it to Esmie are giving Eat with Ellen readers a 10% discount from both their click’n’collect service and their shop. Just use the code ELLEN10 when you check out.
Here we are again, back in lockdown. Which means restaurant bookings, hotel reviews, holidays, and long lazy pub lunches remain a fairly distant memory.
It’s safe to say lockdowns two and three have felt harder than the first one. Maybe it’s the lack of sunshine and warmth. Maybe the fact we’ve all been here before. Or maybe the uncertainty over whether this really is the last time we’ll have to do this. Whatever it is, it’s a struggle.
As ever, food and drink is one of the few pleasures we can still enjoy, and while that might not be eating out at restaurants or quaffing cocktails at your favourite bar, the innovation that started in March 2020 has continued. That means lockdown three brings us more opportunities than ever to bring the ‘eating out’ experience into our homes.
Never one to shy away from getting someone else to do the cooking for me, I’m a big fan of ‘at home’ kits from restaurants. They’re entertaining, they offer great food, and these days you can have everything from Michelin-standard meals like Antona at Home and Aktar at Home, high end but accessible options like The Woodsman and Elite Bistros.
But sometimes we overlook our own local restaurants – and they certainly aren’t absent from the party. A fair few places in Coventry and Warwickshire have started doing similar ideas, adding to their takeaway offering with the chance to have a go yourself, with all the prep done and you just finishing it off.
They include Leave it to Esmie, a popular Caribbean restaurant in FarGo Village that I’ve heard endless rave reviews about. They do everything from salt fish fritters to curry mutton, stewed oxtail, and jerk chicken with the obligatory rice peas as well as street food like jerk burgers.
My plan for a long time has been to get there for a whole feast of Caribbean food and several gallons of cocktails, but alas it wasn’t to be. Of course, they do takeaway but since I’m out of range I opted to buy some loveliness for delivery via their online shop.
If you want food porn, the online shop is a little internet Aladdin’s Cave of everything from Esmie’s rubs and curry powders to seasonings, sauces, drinks, gifts and yes – meal boxes. There’s a selection, including an Ackee and Saltfish Breakfast Hamper, a ‘Doubles’ kit (Doubles are basically two flatbreads filled with curried chickpeas) and the classic Jerk kit, available with chicken, salmon or soya.
I opted for the Jerk chicken box, which comes with rice and peas, steamed veg and BBQ gravy. At £14.95 for a kit that serves two people, it’s a steal and you can either click and collect or get it delivered to your door like I did for a charge of about £6.
Each kit comes with a recipe card and all the ingredients neatly packaged and clearly labelled. Most of the hard work – the preparation of the various marinades and spices – has all been done for you, so it’s just a case of following a few easy steps to create your meal.
Of course, as soon as Jamie had read the recipe card, he decreed the only way to cook the marinated boneless chicken legs was on the barbecue, so he set about getting the fire ready while I did the rest.
It genuinely is very easy. The instructions are straightforward and for most of the elements it’s simply the case of adding the various pots at the right time in the cooking process. All in all, the whole thing took about half an hour (excluding Jamie’s fire preparation).
The result was delicious. I thought it would be good, but had convinced myself that anything delivered cold to our door and reliant on us to finish it off would be far off the mark of what you’d get if you eat at Esmie’s in person. I mean, it probably is, but it was still bloody great.
The chicken may look innocuous, but don’t be fooled. Thanks to the marinade, the scotch bonnet-laced jerk was there in full effect, thwacking your tastebuds hard then following up with an enduring warmth that never quite gets too much, but thoroughly appeals to us lovers of chilli.
I should mention that it comes pre-marinated but you get an extra pot of marinade should you want to up the spice. Which of course we did, and have absolutely no regrets.
The rice and peas was fragrant with coconut and the fresh herbs added to it while cooking, and texture-wise it was slightly sticky without being cloying. I’m putting that down to the careful instructions to rinse it to release the starch before cooking which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never done and have only soaked it. So there’s a tip to walk away with.
The steamed veg was a great addition, again fragrant and full of flavour thanks to the magical little pot of herbs and garlic provided as part of the kit. And to bring it all together was the BBQ gravy – a thick sauce packed with onions and garlic and slightly reminiscent of a Chinese sweet and sour sauce but with more of that addictive heat.
The whole thing was a feast – more than enough food for two people. Well balanced, packed with flavour, and an excellent advert for the standard of food turned out by Esmie’s. If that’s what they can do when it’s pre-packaged up, transported around the county and finished off by amateurs, then I can’t wait to see what you get when it’s been cooked and served up by them in their restaurant.
It’s not fine dining. It’s simple, soulful food, packed with flavour and made with love. It’s these places that we should back as much as we do the big players. They’re the ones that have been there all along, in the background, doing what they love, and hopefully still will be for years to come.
Lucky for you, Leave it to Esmie are giving Eat with Ellen readers a 10% discount from both their click’n’collect service and their shop. Just use the code ELLEN10 and you too could enjoy jerk chicken at home – whether you cook it yourself or get them to do it for you. Enjoy!
[We paid in full for our jerk chicken kit – plus the spice rubs and hot sauce we ordered alongside it]