Just because we can’t eat out right now doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some indulgence at the dining table. All UK restaurants and bars remain shut for the foreseeable future, but all over the country, chefs have been hard at work, creating a totally new concept – at-home restaurant dining.
In the first lockdown, a handful of venues saw an opportunity to feed hungry punters – and if the customers couldn’t come to the restaurant, the restaurant would come to them, in the form of pre-prepared at-home dining kits that require minimal cooking. The number of restaurants in the UK offering at-home deliveries has increased dramatically in the second and now third lockdown, and has attracted some of the finest culinary talent in the country, affording amateur cooks the chance to knock up Michelin-starred food in their own kitchen.
The benefits are twofold: not only do restaurants get valuable revenue at a much-needed time, but at a time when there is precious little else to do, we all get to enjoy a night of luxury via restaurant-quality food. Not only that, but with many restaurants offering delivery across the country, it’s also an opportunity to sample dishes from a venue many miles away without leaving your own postcode.
Among the earliest adopters was Roger Jones, owner of the formerly Michelin-starred The Harrow at Little Bedwyn in Wiltshire. Jones had intended to retire last spring, having closed the restaurant permanently just before the first lockdown. But over the course of the summer, Jones says he was “inundated” with requests for takeaway dishes. Conscious of taking custom from local pubs and restaurants, he reluctantly declined, but after a conversation with his lobster supplier, he had another idea.
“This guy was isolated on the west Wales coast with the restaurant trade dead and no customers, so I decided to set up a Friday fish service,” says Jones. “I started off offering whole sea bass, turbot and Dover sole, but then I started getting more and more lavish requests, notably for prepared shellfish. So we introduced dressed crab and dressed lobster; one week we even put lobster thermidor on the menu, which sounded crazy. We took orders for 90 halves, which meant a 6am start and 10pm finish to prepare them; we ended up doing more business than we had on a typical Friday night in the restaurant.” The restaurant now offers an eight-course tasting menu for £45, for collection from the restaurant and cooking through at home.
Simon Rogan, the chef behind The Lake District’s L’Enclume and Rogan & Co was also quick off the mark, mainly because the first lockdown left him with lots of unused stock and produce from his farm. What started as boil-in-the-bag meals for the local community at a nominal fee has since evolved into a three-course menu delivered nationwide, which regularly sells out.
“People want to keep supporting the restaurant, which is amazing and obviously a big help,” executive chef Tom Barnes told The Guardian. “Some people buy the boxes because they like cooking, but at the same time, we don’t want to give them too much to do.” The £45 a person price tag is only marginally cheaper than what you’d pay at the group’s Rogan & Co. “We’re not serving anything we wouldn’t be happy to serve in the restaurant,” Barnes added.
We have to think cleverly about the taste and if it will travel
“It’s about giving people a good meal for good value,” said Lisa Goodwin-Allen, executive chef of the Michelin-starred Northcote in Lancashire, whose gourmet boxes cost £105 for two, compared to £85 per person for the gourmet menu in the restaurant. “To do the food we do at Northcote in a box is quite difficult,” she added. “You can’t do all the technical dishes that we usually do, so we have to think cleverly about the taste and if it will travel.” As a result, and with several chefs furloughed, Northcote is limited to 350 boxes a week, which, like many of the at-home dining kits, are delivered at weekends for use over the next day or two. They tend to sell out on the day they’re released.
By way of research, we sampled a Northcote box, and were delighted to see that all the fiddly prep has been done, so there was very little actual cooking involved, other than a sear here and a warm-through there. The prospect of standing over a stockpot for hours on end or patiently reducing a sauce to make a demi-glace wasn’t part of the appeal, so having everything pre-prepped is a welcome time-saver.
A starter of Chalkstream trout with a warm tartare sauce and ‘black lemon’ was much more within our compass – roast the trout on the cedar plank provided, heat the butter sauce, add an array of aromatics including capers and cornichons, then drizzle over the piquant black-lemon sauce. It took no longer than 15 minutes, looked like a work of art and tasted sublime – certainly a marked upgrade from the usual Friday night takeaway.
While many smaller, neighbourhood restaurants have been offering delivery or collection of pre-prepped dishes for a while, the arrival of nationally renowned names with three-, five- and seven-course menus offers an upgrade – and a little welcome luxury in our lives. Many restaurants have stepped up the luxe factor further for Valentine’s weekend – but be warned, most have already sold out.
Whatever your taste, with at-home dining set to continue until our favourite restaurants and bars open up again, here’s our pick of the high-end at-home dining experiences currently available.
Dining at the top table – 12 of the best at-home restaurant kits
Hélène Darroze has started 2021 in fine style, winning her third Michelin star. She has been at the helm of her eponymous restaurant at The Connaught in London since 2008 (as well as another Michelin-starred venue in Paris), and now offers Hélène A La Maison, a five-course menu with a firm emphasis on provenance, such as scallops from Kyle of Lochalsh in north-west Scotland, Limousin veal and Stichelton cheese from Nottinghamshire. A number of luxe extras are available, including caviar, truffle, Champagne and even a bottle of 2006 Château Palmer (£340).
£195 for two people
Delivery costs vary; delivery only possible within 8-mile radius of The Connaught; Friday/Saturday
Core by Clare Smyth
Another recent recipient of a third Michelin star, Clare Smyth headed up Gordon Ramsay’s flagship London restaurant for four years before opening her own venue, Core, also in the English capital, in 2017. Three-star dining doesn’t come cheap, at £350 for two people, but that gets you a stunning six-course menu plus a selection of amuse-bouches, vanilla madeleines to finish and a bottle of Charles Heidsieck NV Champagne.
£175 per person; min 2 people
Delivery: £15 for London zones 1-3; £40 M25; POA outside M25; Friday/Saturday
Hide is the upscale, Mayfair-based, most recent venture of chef Ollie Dabbous, who first wowed London diners with his eponymous restaurant that opened in 2012 and earned a Michelin star in under a year. Hide’s at-home offering highlights the chef’s imaginative cuisine – think salmon tartare with yellow-courgette shavings, or roast rack of Basque pork with lardo and black pudding. Daily orders can be set up for breakfast and lunch deliveries, and you can also add individual dishes, as well as cocktails and wine. Dabbous’ other London venue, Hideaway, offers a takeaway service, too.
Delivery costs vary; delivery only possible within 7-mile radius of Hide; Thursday to Sunday
Musette by Tom Aikens
Tom Aikens was the youngest chef to earn two Michelin stars, achieving the feat aged just 26. After running a number of successful restaurants in London, his latest venture is the 25-cover Muse, which won its first Michelin star in under a year. Aikens offers a range of at-home options, including a two-course ‘Sumptuous Sharer’ with seven-hour lamb shoulder, spring-onion mash with confit shallots and garlic, and a three-course ‘Makeaway’ that features comforting classics such as homemade ricotta, braised short rib and chocolate mousse.
From £70 for two people
Delivery: from £6, nationwide; Friday
Simon Rogan has long wowed punters and critics at his two-Michelin-starred L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, where he focuses on vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers grown at his own nearby farm. His three-course menus include dishes such as confit heritage potatoes in onion ash, and stuffed shoulder of Herdwick lamb with lamb-fat potatoes. Caviar and blinis (£100) can be added, along with matching wine flights (£40) picked by head sommelier Valentin Mouillard. Being able to order individual menus is a bonus, especially if you’re dining alone or catering for three people.
£45 per person
Delivery: from £10, nationwide; Friday/Saturday
Located in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire, Northcote is a Michelin-starred venue run by executive chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen, star of BBC TV’s Great British Menu. Offering ‘fine dining with true Northern hospitality’, Northcote At Home boxes are four-course affairs, with the generous addition of a loaf of homemade bread as well as post-dinner chocolates. Expect the likes of English onion soup with Cheddar-cheese toastie or salt-aged fillet of beef with marrowbone crust.
£105 for two people
Delivery: from £15, nationwide; Friday
The Harrow at Little Bedwyn
Famed for its stunning wine list, The Harrow was due to close its doors permanently in March 2020 to allow owner Roger Jones to concentrate on his wine consultancy work, but the pandemic forced a change of plan. Roger and his wife Sue cook and pack everything, including eight-course tasting menus and a range of individual dishes such as Welsh beef curry with tarka dhal, wild mushroom and Périgord truffle risotto, and mulligatawny soup.
Bocca di Lupo
Jacob Kenedy’s Italian restaurant in the heart of London draws plaudits for its authentic regional cooking. Its at-home menus focus on a particular region each month – January was a celebration of Tuscan fare, and February sees the spotlight on Veneto. Expect the likes of baked scallops with Parmesan, lemon and thyme, spinach and ricotta dumplings with brown butter and sage, and black risotto with cuttlefish and gremolata. There’s also a huge range of Italian wines you can add on, as well as pre-mixed Negronis and deli staples including olive oil, balsamic vinegar and panettone.
From £49 for two people
Delivery: from £20, nationwide; Tuesday to Friday
French chef Alexis Gauthier is renowned for his imaginative use of vegetables, putting them centre stage rather than as a mere accompaniment. Gauthier became vegan in 2016, and his Vegan Box is an eight-course affair, including his famous plant-based ‘Faux Gras’ terrine, along with cauliflower and cumin velouté, and spelt and mushroom medley. Wine pairings are available for an additional £32.
£75 for four people
Delivery: free, nationwide; Friday
One of TV’s most popular chefs, Rick Stein (with help from chef son Jack) has put together a varied at-home dining kit, including a vegetarian box, an Indonesian curry box with sea bass, cod and prawns, and an indulgent lobster box. Cornish seafood is the order of the day, along with sticky puddings accompanied by Cornish clotted cream. Detailed instructions and videos are available to view on Stein’s website.
From £40 for two people
Delivery: £7.95, nationwide; Wednesday/Friday/Saturday
Aktar Islam runs Michelin-starred Opheem in Birmingham, serving what he calls ‘progressive Indian’ cuisine with a strong focus on seasonality. Islam’s 10-course curry box is a feast of Asian flavours, with dishes such as mutton rogan josh, Bengali-style fish curry and potato-and-pea samosas. Sunday roasts featuring slabs of Argentinian beef are also available, as are vegan curry boxes, and meat boxes with dry-aged beef, lamb and chicken.
From £65 for four people
Delivery: £15, nationwide; Thursday/Friday
Hawksmoor is regarded by many as among the best UK restaurants to eat steak, serving extra-large cuts to share, accompanied by classic sides and top-notch cocktails. Originally London-based, the company now has branches in Manchester, Edinburgh and New York. Its Hawksmoor at Home offering comprises steak boxes to share, featuring 35-day-aged prime rib of beef with ‘ultimate’ oven chips, sticky toffee pudding and pre-made cocktails. A gargantuan Sunday roast box is also available for four hungry diners.
From £50 for two people
Delivery: free, nationwide; Thursday/Friday; £5 for Saturday delivery
Café Murano offers a more casual approach to Angela Hartnett’s fine-dining approach to Italian cuisine. Its four-course at-home dining kits change each month – February’s line-up includes focaccia, olive oil and arancini; braised beef shin with potato gnocchi and toasted rosemary crumb; with lemon posset, poached rhubarb and shortbread to finish.
From £70 for two people
Delivery: £5.50, nationwide; Friday