Fine Dining Takeaway


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.

Dine at home The Whitebrook

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.

Dine at home The Whitebrook

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.

Dine at home The Whitebrook

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.

Dine at home The 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.

Dine at home The Whitebrook

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.


Links and stuff:

Quatermass and the Mothers Ruin of Invention

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Foxtail Gin

In the back of a house in deepest Herefordshire there is a small room with a small but ominous looking 22nd century modern day equivalent of the machine age that Professor Bernard Quatermass himself would be in awe of. It sits on a laboratory bench quietly and seemingly innocuous but, once awake it starts to bubble, heat, cool and drip all at the same time using the power of it’s bluetooth brain, the sum of its work far exceeding the value of its individual parts.

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When a scientist and an auditor make gin together, this is what it looks like. The mechanics and the science of distillation are well understood by this couple, Ross and Leigh, who share an analytical background and a love of gin. The creation of the essential parts of gin making are therefore easily and repeatably obtained and stored beside the Quatermass machine by them. But that is just the thing with gin as any Victorian Mother worth her sorry salt would have told you – making gin is easy, making good gin, that’s the tough part.

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The Machine

Ross and Leigh are the team couple behind this newest of gin makers. For a hobby Ross is an extreme runner which seems odd because in every other respect he seems like a sensible and level-headed fella. Leigh, is the shy and retiring one who prefers to tend to the garden where many of the botanical ingredients come from and dream up ever more inventive botanicals. You definitely get the the feeling that somewhere near the lab there is a secret chalkboard full of equations…

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Ross of Foxtail Gin

If this were all it took to make great gin then everyone would be doing it. But it is far more complicated than that. Things that you think would add great and unusual flavours when you find them don’t always translate in the distillation process and some things, you imagine routine and ordinary, knock your socks off in the distillate! It gets even more complicated when you start on the ruinous path of the dark art of blending for this is where the mystery exists. This is where the passion, the experience and the vision becomes reality.

There is no such thing as a short conversation with an expert or an enthusiast and Ross and Leigh are both. Ross waxes lyrical on the process of gin production and their story of how they got here is a fascinating one. All of this delivered in the soft Dublin brogue that tends to make everything seem grand.

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Foxtail Gin

The recent explosion in UK gin making is due in large part to the case of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs v Sipsmiths.

Sipsmiths of London forged the way for small craft distillers in the UK and, perhaps unknowingly at the time, were instrumental in giving birth to the small-scale gin making industry. HMRC, with a waft of a derogatory hand, assessed this nascent distillery as nothing more than a “moonshine” producer. HMRC where up to that point used only to dealing with large conglomerate distillers, a very convenient situation indeed for both an easy life and tight control on the market and its revenue. They saw this small London operation as a threat and far too time consuming and troublesome to waste their time with. I wonder if those mandarins are still in a job as Sipsmiths slowly took over the London gin scene?

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Foxtail Gin

It took a change in legislation to achieve the granting of their licence in 2009 and nothing was ever the same again. Only a year before our own Chase Distillery had been denied a licence initially which forced them down the road of developing a much bigger operation.

But the renaissance of gin making has opened our eyes to the potential quality of this delightful and refreshing tipple. None more so than in the hands of Ross and Leigh. Their own gin collection (kept only for reference of course) has the volume capacity to keep a London borough of mothers ruined for a long time alone. But it’s what the two gin geniuses do next that is so exciting. They are creative in their blending. Don’t mistake this for random. The blending process is just as scientifically documented as everything else they do but whilst they document their experiments – they do experiment.

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Rosa Gertrude Jekyll – Foxtail Gin

For example, inspiration came from the famous rose – Gertrude Jekyll – just outside the distillery door and so the petals of this legendary rose are now distilled into a jar in the laboratory shelf.

With three gins currently in the product range, nostalgia drove my first tasting choice inevitably to Rhubarb & Custard. I tasted neat gin first to savour the complex flavours and then with just a splash of a good quality tonic such as Fever Tree (a small amount of tonic will develop and enhance the flavours). And there I was, sat back down at my Nan’s kitchen table with my favourite pudding!! So good we put our money where our keyboard is and bought a bottle on the spot! The other two – Premium and Thai inspired are none too shabby either!

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Foxtail Gin with frozen rhubarb ice cubes

With plans for gin tasting days and gin making courses this quiet backwater of the Herefordshire countryside will be a little better known in future.

To find out more about what Ross and Leigh get up to in the “lab” or to book your own gin experience visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

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Foxtail Gin

Gin Guild map

The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire” – Winston Churchill


Woods of Whitchurch