[Disclosure: I was sent a Valentine’s meal from Cornerstone Kitchen in exchange for posts on social media and here. As ever, these are my honest views of the meal]
Back when all this began, those of us in small towns looked on enviously as the big players in big cities started pumping out at home meals that you could finish off at home. The words ‘local delivery or collection only’ were about as enjoyable as hearing Boris tell us to look after each other while waving his mate off to Barnard Castle for a break.
With little choice in the matter, we stuck to our own clumsy cooking efforts or the same chicken shashlik we’ve been ordering from our favourite Indian restaurant for the past decade (don’t get me wrong, no other shashlik compares, but sometimes you want something that little bit different).
A year on and things have moved forward. Now, no matter where you are you can order food from some of the biggest restaurants in the UK, dreamed up and assembled by some of our finest chefs. In fact, some might argue that the ability to bring the handiwork of those chefs into your own home rather than you having to go to them has allowed them to experience food from far more restaurants, further afield, than they would have otherwise.
The pandemic hasn’t just brought restaurant food into our homes. It’s allowed chefs who don’t have their own bricks and mortar yet – or maybe don’t want that anyway – the golden opportunity to showcase their creations to a public who are actively searching for options and who have become used to getting stuck in when it comes to their dinner rather than having it, well, handed to them on a plate.
And so to Cornerstone Kitchen. These guys are a high-end independent catering company and probably not necessarily who you would seek out if you wanted a quiet meal at home. But then, everything’s changed hasn’t it – including the way we ‘do’ food nowadays. Like many others, this experienced team noticed how much all of us were crying out for a bit of fine dining food in our own homes and so set about providing it.
Their self-described new mission is to deliver a restaurant experience to you at home, and so they introduced their own version of what has in the past year become a new fixture in the way we eat ‘out’ – Cornerstone at Home.
Much like many of the others on the market, they do the hard work for you, drop it all neatly packaged to your doorstep along with simple instructions, et voila. Gourmet food on your dining table with a fraction of the work needed to create it.
Cornerstone at Home’s boxes use locally-sourced, fresh ingredients, all prepared by head chef Dan (whose experience spans Turners in Birmingham, Hotel du Vin, and Anderson’s Bar and Grill) less than 24 hours before they get to you. And while I’m inclined to say this is a concept quite similar to plenty of others out there, there’s an ‘extra mile’ element when it comes to presentation, little touches and thought that does make it stand out from some of the other boxes you can get your hands on.
Lucky girl that I am, I was sent Cornerstone’s five-course Valentine’s menu to try. Thanks to the joy of firefighters’ shifts, I shared this romantic feast with my mum, complete with nice wine, soft music, and the dried rose petals Cornerstone had supplied. Because who says you can’t romance your ma once in a while.
We started with Jerusalem Artichoke and truffle soup, whose beauty was in its combined simplicity of preparation and subtle flavours. I’m a lover of truffle anyway, but I tend to think that less is more, and for me it was just right, allowing you to roar through a whole bowl without feeling like you’ve peaked in the indulgence stakes far too early in the meal.
A cured salmon starter was everything I dream of in a dish like this. Pleasing to the palate and the eye, a carefully-thought out but simultaneously simply combination of flavours and textures.
Simple, almost slightly sweet salmon with crunchy, colourful beetroot, tangy pickled cucumber and a horseradish cream that I could happily have taken a bit more of a horseradish punch from, but was still tasty, and a topping of crunchy rye crumb.
An alternative fish-free starter was roasted fennel with the same accompaniments – again simple, subtle but certainly not lacking in flavour.
Main course was a choice that in my (very) humble opinion you can’t go far wrong with in every aspect – whether it’s something you can prepare in advance as a chef and your far less capable customers won’t manage to cock-up, or something that you can guarantee the general population will enjoy, or something that looks good on a plate and tastes good at the same time.
Answer: fillet steak with dauphinoise, baby veg and peppercorn sauce. There’s a reason why it appears on menu after menu – both in restaurants and at-home boxes, and that reason is a good one. Because it ticks all of the boxes.
Another easy one to reheat, it was (perhaps predictably) a triumph. Good quality meat, left rare how mum and I like it and full of flavour. Creamy, soft dauphinoise. And the veg – so often the underdog of the plate – a champion on this occasion.
I resisted all (incorrect) temptation to cook it for too long and followed Cornerstone’s instructions to be rewarded with tender, slightly sweet vegetables that escaped any school dinner sogginess and shone in their own right. The final flourish was the peppercorn sauce and yes, we did lick the plates clean afterwards.
Our non-meat option was salt-baked celeriac – something I first tried on a trip to Land in Birmingham and have been gagging to have again but haven’t quite mustered the courage to cook it myself.
I won’t pretend it has anywhere near the same texture of flavour as a steak if you’re a meat-lover, but I’m equally not a fan of non-meat options that try to parrot meat in a weird wannabe way. It’s a delight in its own right, with great flavour and a texture that you feel you can dive into in the similar way you’d attack a steak.
Served with the same sides and smothered in a similar sauce packing a bit of heat mollified with a silky creaminess and it was a course I’d happily order again – potentially even in favour of a steak.
Dessert was another classic. Chocolate torte served with strawberry gel, compressed strawberries and chocolate soil and crisp. Rich chocolate, bitter yet indulgent, sweet and slightly tart fruit. Crunchy soil and crisp. A lesson in balance and a joy to eat.
The final flourish were some petit fours, including a homemade rose marshmallow that you were encouraged to toast at home and whose fragrant flavour I can still remember vividly. I just wish I’d had more to munch on with my coffee as we mulled over a marvellous meal.
With the experience of the team behind Cornerstone Kitchen, it’s no surprise they can turn out wonderful food. But turning out great food that needs to make a final journey to people’s homes and subjected to their own slapdash skills isn’t easy, yet they have nailed it.
For me, the delight of these guys is the refusal to shy away from classic dishes, tried-and-tested combinations and crowd-pleasing flavours that everybody loves yet some people hate to admit. Sometimes, simplicity takes confidence and the team at Cornerstone appear to have this in bucketloads. It’s apparent in their menu, their attention to detail, and even in their instructions.
Their aim is to create a restaurant experience in your home, and they definitely achieved that. For a fine dining experience without any of the effort but all the enjoyment, you can’t go far wrong.