What do you get, how much is it and how easy to prepare?
One of the most popular features on Confidentials has always been our honest, unannounced and impartial restaurant reviews. Our readers come to us for the lowdown, confident that we know our stuff and will tell it straight. With restaurant dining sadly not an option right now, we've not been able to write restaurant reviews. But it’s what we do.
Instead, we’re giving you the scoop on some of the many delivery options that have sprung up. We’ll buy it, eat it - cook it if we have to - and let you know how it was. We’re not going to be scoring these ‘reviews’ - it doesn’t seem right at the moment - but we’ll let you know what you can expect and where's worth spending your money.
What - Northcote Winter Gourmet Box For Two
Northcote needs no introduction. The long time Michelin starred restaurant up in Langho near Blackburn is presided over by exec chef Lisa Goodwin Allen who you might recognise from The Great British Menu where she most recently bossed the Xmas 2020 edition.
My skill at Jackson Pollock-ing some jet black lemon syrup around the accompanying butter sauce leaves a lot to be desired.
These stardust sprinkled dinner boxes launched back in November; they are limited in number and very popular. You’ll need to set an alarm if you want to get your oven mitts on one. The website when I ordered was a bit jittery and although the payment went out, I didn’t get any confirmation and had to email to check it was definitely coming. The customer service dealing with this issue was as rapid and reassuring as you’d expect.
What do you get and how much does it cost?
At £120 delivered for a box to serve two, that’s roughly equivalent to a couple of week’s shopping for our household of two adults (and a pair of rotund cats). Special occasion stuff then. There are four courses plus bread and chocolates with menus changing at least every few weeks. Occasional seasonal editions are a bit more pricey. With ingredients like chalk stream trout, an elegant, patisserie-chef-crafted, layered, spiced chocolate and lime dessert and the most beautiful piece of beef I’ve ever seen (salt aged from Waterford Farm), Northcote’s well-established supply chain of excellence and highly skilled kitchen team is implicit. There’s a reason that Michelin star has hung around so long.
What do you have to do and how difficult is it?
'Soak the cedar plank' is the first instruction in the booklet and a first in my home kitchen. Said plank, once dampened, performs as a cooking tray for a couple of glistening hunks of chalk stream trout (try saying that when you're pissed). Is it a bit of unnecessary frippery? One mouthful confirms it isn’t. The wood imbues a flavour you simply wouldn’t get in a home kitchen. Except now you can. Thanks, Lisa. My skill at Jackson Pollock-ing some jet black lemon syrup around the accompanying butter sauce leaves a lot to be desired and turns out a bit... tadpoley. One thing these boxes really highlight is the challenging art of plating, but it’s fun to have a go.
Occasionally these things are so high on faff that the actual pleasure of sitting down and enjoying the meal is dramatically impacted. Not so here. There aren’t a bamboozling number of ingredients and garnishes and everything flows calmly without too much pan juggling or multiple timers buzzing.
You’ll need some kitchen basics like olive oil, salt ’n pepper and a plastic tray in which to freeze the ‘lime snow’ for dessert and are encouraged to ‘enhance’ the main course with your choice of veg. A mushroom mousse needs microwaving and I don’t have one (I know!) but it heats up just fine in a pan. I also knock my oven up a notch higher than suggested to crisp up the (genius) marrowbone topping on the beef but it still cooks to absolute perfection.
Bread is a whole loaf of Northcote's famous Lancashire cheese bread - refresh in the oven for 10 minutes for a crisp outer crust and yielding croissant-esque interior swirled with cheese. Almost worth the price alone, it’s the best bread I’ve had in one of these boxes by a rolling Lancashire countryside mile. Don’t forget to take the butter out of the fridge beforehand though. A mini box of chocolates provide a classic Michelin finish, serve on a twig for authenticity if you like (I didn’t have access to a twig). Packaging is sustainable with wool insulation and potato starch tubs. It’s just a shame they can’t deliver the view.
Is it any cop?
With more and more chefs jumping on the cook-at-home box wagon, this is no longer just a fun lockdown fad but a serious business model which is likely to continue long after lockdown is over. As everyone adapted last year, hiccups were forgivable but with competition now fierce, a certain standard is expected. Particularly at this price point. I was a bit worried that this wouldn’t live up to the hype but I needn’t have been. It's super easy, the instructions clear, the finished dishes second to none. Little details - a gossamer-thin layered potato 'chip', the ultimate toastie ‘garnish’ to a deeply flavoured English onion soup, a dainty, rainbow-coloured edible leaf to complete the stunning dessert, even that plank of wood - make this an absolute delight from end to end. If any of my loved ones are reading, I would like one of these for all special occasions from now on.
Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn, Lancashire, England, BB6 8BE