I miss restaurants. I miss the food, of course, but I also miss the atmosphere, the service, the buzz. I miss the working lunches, the romantic dinners, the lazy brunches. I miss ordering from a menu, I miss matching wines, and I miss someone bringing me a plate of food so stunning I can’t stop smiling.
While it could of course be much worse, every restaurant cancellation I’ve received in recent weeks and been looking forward to for months – from Michelin starred Mana and Moor Hall to ‘best restaurant in the world’ Noma in Copenhagen – has left me feeling deflated. I can only imagine how restaurateurs and hospitality professionals must be feeling.
The list of restaurants I can’t wait to visit as soon as it’s safe to do so gets longer by the day. But in the meantime, like many people, I’m trying to become a better home cook.
— Louise Rhind-Tutt (@lrtpublicity) April 27, 2020
The elaborate recipes and processes we usually put off because they’re too time consuming – well, there’s no excuse now is there? We’ve become a nation of bakers and makers.
And restaurants, too, are trying to do whatever they can in almost impossible circumstances. From offering takeaway services to delivering full-blown meal kits, not to mention the numerous acts of charity and kindness we’ve seen as restaurants feed those in need, it’s encouraging to see ingenuity in the face of adversity: kitchens being used, staff kept in employment and local suppliers supported.
Manchester chef Simon Wood is one of those who has cleverly adapted his business in the current climate. From helping us to cook at home with easy-to-follow recipes and videos – we can’t get enough of his meat and potato plate pies – former MasterChef winner Simon has now launched a meal kit delivery service from his Wood Manchester restaurant.
It’s a high-end offering that promises to bring a bit of the professional kitchen into your dining room.
The #WoodAtHome premise is simple: order three courses from a menu, and the dishes will be delivered to your door in the form of a meal kit.
Some of the more intricate processes have been done for you, so it’s just a case of following the instructions to cook (in some cases from scratch, in some cases re-heat) your meal and then plate it using all the various elements. You can even order wine to go with it.
We chose exactly what we would have ordered if we were in the restaurant: starters of pork belly and artichoke, apple and celeriac ‘risotto’ with Lancashire cheese gnocchi, a huge tomahawk steak to share for a main, and Simon’s signature tutti-frutti dessert. Plus cheese, because cheese makes everything better.
The box arrives, and the ingredients for each course are clearly labelled in bags. Apron on and glass of wine in hand, I carefully read through all the instructions like I’m about to sit an exam.
The recipe card says the posset dessert needs 90 minutes in the fridge to set, so we start with that. It’s a soothing task – the cream and sugar mix comes in a tub, which needs bringing to the boil in a pan before adding the sachet of fresh lemon juice, pouring it into serving bowls and letting it cool. The kitchen already smells amazing.
Sadly we don’t have Wood Manchester’s Josper grill at home, but the tomahawk steak can be cooked on a griddle or barbecue. It comes with a rich peppercorn sauce (which just needs re-heating in a pan), and pre-cooked seasonal Jersey Royals and hispi cabbage with butter and herbs.
While the steak is cooking and resting, we have a go at the starters. The instructions are clear enough, though I spend quite a while trying to plate the pork belly so it looks as attractive as it does in the restaurant.
There are lots of elements – including apple gel, crispy sage leaves, charred pickled onion petals and crisp pork crackling crumbs – and I’m not sure where they should all go on the plate.
It may not be quite as pretty as Simon’s, but it tastes incredible. The pork has been slow-cooked at 82 degrees, and just requires heating through in its little sealed bag before plating. It’s meltingly tender, and all the different elements sing together beautifully.
It gives you the buzz of having created a restaurant quality dish, even if much of the hard work has been done by the professionals in advance.
The ‘risotto’ is easy to re-heat, accompanied by a couple of cheesy round gnocchi which we’re instructed to fry until golden. The well-rested steak is full of flavour albeit not quite as rare as I’d have liked, and I’m relieved to see the possets have successfully set in the fridge.
They just need decorating with grapefruit gel, tuiles and mini meringues. I add a few raspberries from my fridge as well, because I’m on a roll now.
Cooking and plating food to these standards isn’t always easy, but it’s a lot of fun and brings out your creative side. It certainly makes you appreciate how hard chefs work, and the sheer level of skill that goes into their food.
Wood At Home is perfect for a special treat or date night. But while we love playing chef at home, if anything, it’s made us miss restaurants even more.
The Wood At Home meal kits offer three courses for £25 per person, delivered to your door. The tomahawk deal for two is £70 including starters, sides and desserts. Delivery across Greater Manchester, Thursday-Saturday.