Hospitality, for the moment at least, is no doubt taking the brunt from the lockdowns and restrictions across the UK. Question is, just how do we support our favourite local businesses and at the same time heed the safety measures we must all endure? If you take the need to help the NHS and therefore save lives seriously, it is very difficult to argue that there is no risk in visiting your favourite local pub or restaurant right now.
Was the money these businesses spent trying to make premises Covid safe a good investment? Things change, sometimes rapidly and with hindsight it may seem not. Corvid loves a crowd as they say and it can definitely party given an indoor crowd of strangers. We are perhaps seeing proof of that in the sobering numbers in the daily news.
Many of our great pubs and restaurants have stepped up and have been offering take away food throughout our health-imposed isolation. But fine dining takeaways? So, when The Whitebrook suggested that its past and present customers celebrate the New Year with just that – we were hooked!
What’s not to like? It provides revenue for the restaurant and a great night in for us. Being by far and away the best restaurant in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley area hasn’t immunised this (Michelin) star wielding restaurant – with rooms, from the pandemic’s hospitality implosion. But, like all eateries, livelihoods and jobs depend on them remaining profitable. So, we need to use them when and how we are able.
The “Dine at Home” programme launched by Chef Chris Harrod for New Year’s Eve homebound revellers was a real treat. And what a surprise – turns out that fine dining out of a takeaway bag – albeit a very smart one – was great fun and very, very doable.
The food tasted every bit as good as it would have in the restaurant. But, why wouldn’t it? All of the same people did the prep, made the sauces and sourced the produce locally. The only thing lacking was going to be the restaurant atmosphere and the experience of being well looked after by well trained, relaxed and chatty staff in a cosy environment.
Turns out that there is just as much fun to be had diving through the courses in your pyjamas and smoking jacket, by the light of the Christmas tree whilst listening to music playing loudly from the landing. We seemed to get our own little bubble of ambience going.
I have to say could not have been easier. Everything was packaged beautifully and for the most part in fully recyclable or compostable packaging. Something tells me that this was no accident. Chris Harrod and his team had obviously worked hard to make this process a success.
Chris was on hand to hand out the orders as I arrived to collect at our timed order slot. At the door it was great to see the table healthily laden with orders awaiting collection. The goodie bag came with full printed logical instructions. Clear and concise, this step-by-step guide was impeccably prepared but had missed one small detail, precisely how much “good will” the diners may have already indulged in prior to their 15 minutes of kitchen fame.
In essence, everything had been considered and explained. All that was required from the diner was a large pan of boiling water, an oven and the ability to read instructions. The latter thus, rendering the male half of the population incapable by default and a further 50% of the female population reduction due to a whiff of the sherry cork. What could possibly go wrong?
So a five course M starred menu, in your own home went like this for us: Our love of Italian travel so sadly cancelled and frustrated in 2020 was well fed by the outstanding Pumpkin focaccia decorated with seeds and nuts and deep green Ramson wild garlic oil. Really pungent and earthy focaccia that only, in our eyes, benefitted from a short reheating in a hot oven before serving. We ate this together with the Goats curd with a crunchy little nuts and seeds bonbon. Not everything went to plan though thanks in part to a couple of Martini’s and a Bushwhacker cocktail apiece. In a flagrant disregard for the step-by-step instructions and numbered ingredients, I’m afraid gin Martini’s got the better of me and I served the mushroom sauce instead of the Velouté – rooky error!
No matter, we had the velouté on its own with scavenged crusty croutons of focaccia – result! Smooth and beautiful acting as a more traditional soup course for us oh and an extra course The Whitebrook team hadn’t intended.
The baked parsnip tasted just fine even without the mushroom sauce and looked great with the foraged Pennywort garnish. The mushroom sauce by the way was simply awesome. The depth of flavour was astonishing – really deep and meaty.
Now for the tricky bit – the fish course. The Whitebrook team must have been holding their breath on this one. They took a big risk allowing us to get the fish course to the table – cooked by us at home, really? Amazingly (by bouncing the stereotype and following the instructions) that too was perfect. A little bit of Kholrabi on the plate, the fish baked on its bed of pine and juniper warmed in its wee cardboard box with a champagne sauce poured over – devine!
Main course of Fallow venison on celeriac puree with smoked baby beetroots as the grand crescendo to a great dinner – and there you have it. A total delight. Genuinely, the whole process was really, really simple and fun – thanks Team Whitebrook.
With dinner, we drank our very last bottle of vineyard sourced full bodied Anfidiamante Red I.G.T. Imported by overland Landrover transport the year before from the family vineyard of Fattoria del Teso – in the other Montecarlo, in Tuscany. A small friendly family vineyard with a just a view bottles in the range. A great red, great white, the stunning Anfidiamante, Vinsanto, their own Grappa and olive oil. It tasted superb, as ever, and all the better for a year and a bit in the bottle – on top of the 18 months it had already had. Fabulous by the way. Drink it now or store it for as long as you like – maybe save a bottle for when we join the EU again.
We did however, choose a lovely dessert wine from the restaurant recommended wines list, a Jurançon. This sweet dessert wine (dried by the sun and shrivelled by the Pyrenean winds before harvesting) tempted us and who doesn’t love a dessert wine – a feeling of genuine celebration indeed. We were not disappointed.
Personally, I’m not really a dessert person. My Achilles heel is handmade ice cream and I can always be easily tempted by a Francis Coulson sticky toffee pudding but that’s about it. So, we opted for the addition of a cheese course for two people expertly chosen and supplied by the great Marches Deli and that was just the ticket to finish.
So why would you splash on a fine dining take away? If you are the type who likes to tick Michelin stars, or impress your mates with where you had dinner or even give the staff the benefit of your wide and impressive dining experience, I can see how the offer of eating at home may not be that attractive. But if you love great food and great taste; want to invest in the longevity of a local beacon of culinary excellence and you’re comfortable with your own ambience (dress style formal or relaxed – it’s up to you) and random tableware then the news is good. From the end of January (22nd) Chris and his team will be doing this again. Every Friday and Saturday. A three course £30 a head dinner. Light your pipe, pull on your best smoking jacket, rest your elbow on the mantelpiece and shout Hussar!!
If you can stay safe in everyday life my friends – lockdown just got a bit more bearable.
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