Back in lockdown one we found ourselves housesitting a cat named Honey, so that someone could isolate with their parents rather than be on their own. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the lockdown; a third personality in our little household, and one that fitted right in given that her lifestyle focused entirely around getting food at very specific times. Honey was (and still is) brilliant; a nosey, temperamental ginge, obsessed with water and intent on causing chaos. She is a housecat with both eyes on the outdoors, positioning herself in every window to keep watch throughout the day. At dawn she’d sit in our bedroom window and watch the birds on the roof of the extension before moving to the patio doors at breakfast to await the squirrel who would run from next door’s tree, across the back of our fence then up the dividing fence of the other side to the bird feeder. Honey would go mental. Back arched, teeth out. Everyday this would happen. One morning I opened the back door unaware that she was right behind me. The cat bolted out, came face-to-face with the squirrel, shit herself and ran straight back inside. And that is how I feel about the world reopening again.
I have become quite accustomed to having everything delivered to my door. Food. Wine. Cocktails. The adjustment to the normal – whatever that normal will look like – will take some getting used to. It’s all giving me anxiety; sure that pint in the pub will be great, but I don’t quite fancy queuing at the bar for it, or having to listen to the gobshite on the next table tell the room about their forthcoming holiday to Gran Canaria. And how many restaurants will I have to visit before one arsehole diner makes a front of house cry because they want a discount on the bill? Restaurants are great; it’s people that ruin them. Here at Casa Carlo I decide what’s on the menu, with dinner served at whatever time I like, and as many digestifs as I want afterwards with minimal rolling eyes. And that’s why ‘at home’ meals aren’t going away anytime soon. Here are my favourites from lockdown 3.0, to keep you going until April 16th and likely beyond.
Maray came to Claire’s attention when they posted their falafel recipe and she repeatedly said we were going to make it. We never made it. We did however get the ‘Maray at Home’ box which was nothing short of incredible. That falafel is about as good as falafel gets, and the seven-spice (like five-spice but more) pork was sensational. Best was the halloumi with dukkah and cranberry jam; a study in texture and acidity. Beautiful stuff. The only thing stopping me ordering another is the intent of getting to Liverpool to eat there.
Sounding like a Channel 5 tv programme is not the most appetising way to get going, but Project Food more than make up for it with some rather incredible fresh pasta. By the time you’ve read this I’ll have eaten a minimum of three meals from them, with the spicy sausage ragu nipping just ahead of the butternut squash filled pasta and the cannelloni. Dishes are priced individually from sevenish quid to about a tenner. I’ll be front of the queue when the restaurant comes along.
My favourite restaurant delivered my favourite lockdown dish to the doorstep. The chilli crab that transported me back to Wales, with huge chunks of fresh crab, crab soy, crab ketchup, crispy rice, and deep-fried bun. Could have eaten ten. Instead we moved on to a huge piece of lamb leg shawarma, then followed it up with sticky toffee pudding. Also forgot to mention the flatbread slathered in garlic butter and aged parmesan. Not cheap, but worth every penny.
Focusing on regions of Italy one home box at a time, Bocca Di Lupa is one of the more interesting boxes we’ve eaten. This time focusing on Venetian food, we started with scallop gratin, moved to duck ragu with fresh pasta, a main of pork shoulder with milk sauce, then finished with tiramisu. The pork was the talking point, but it was the polenta it was served with that stole the show. Cheesy and rich, it mopped up the loose bits like Makelele in his prime.
The key to the success of Peach Pubs is them understanding their clientele perfectly. The resulting ‘Peach at Home’ is the kind of upper-end gastro pub style they do so well, delivering big, comforting flavours with good ingredients. A cheese souffle starter blossomed as hoped once popped inside the oven, served with the cheddar-iest of cheddar sauces and a walnut pesto. Main was what looked to be a shank of lamb in pastry, but transpired to be a tussle of braised meat and diced root veg en croute, with excellent dauphinoise and kale cooked in lamb fat. Chocolate torte for dessert, candles for the table and a playlist. Many places have dumbed down their offering over lockdown, whilst Peach have stayed true to who they are at a very affordable price.
Chicken kebab kits done the right way with superb flatbreads, salads, pickles, tzatziki, and the all-important meat. One pack fed us twice but could have probably have done more meals. Whilst the chicken meatballs also ordered failed to hit the same heights, I’m keen to see what their Greek restaurant is all about. I’ve a feeling I’m going to like it.
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- at home,
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- one star,