Recipes for success: London restaurants’ best meal kits for lockdown and beyond
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This article is part of a guide to London from FT Globetrotter
The takeout is so last lockdown. Too often, the food is underwhelming — past its sizzling best and unappealingly presented. The meal kit is the cool new way to eat in style, especially as many of London’s hottest restaurants — from Michelin-starred fine dining to trendy — have started putting them together for your delectation.
The advantages of meal kits are myriad: food can be eaten at a time to suit you, rather than your Deliveroo driver’s schedule, and served piping hot, course by course, rather than all together from a muddle of cardboard boxes. You can leave out elements you don’t fancy, and even keep a course in the fridge for the next day if you run out of steam.
Kits generally need to be ordered a few days in advance and come chilled in perfect quantities, with fun yet minimal instructions on how to put it together for a proper feast. For the main part, the hard work — the sourcing, measuring, chopping (mostly), spice-grinding, marinating — is done. All that is left to do is a spot of heating, frying, arranging and garnishing. Oh, and opening a bottle of something rather special.
Here is a selection of the best delivery-meal kits from London’s top restaurants, tried and tested by discerning FT foodies.
Bocca di Lupo
“Ecco!” I suppose I felt a little fraudulent, but only a little as I arrived at my wife’s side bearing two plates of burrata on a bed of chilli-infused bean purée. They were surely displayed with as much panache as you might ever hope to see outside Italy. Five minutes later I was back in the kitchen for a quick stir of the garlicky, lightly sizzling cime di rapa, before adding the freshly made — and, yes, al dente — orecchiette and then stirring in flakes of pecorino. Briefly, I returned to waiter mode before happily again taking on the role of diner.
The family-run Bocca di Lupo trattoria has been winning awards in Soho for over a decade. I can see why. Its courses were perfectly pitched in seasoning and scale. They arrived in neat compostable packaging. The cooking instructions were crystal clear and perfectly suited for those of us in need of simplicity (and with little time) after staggering from one video call to another throughout the day. We closed with tette delle monache, an exquisite Apulian speciality: puff-pastry whirls brimming with sweet lemon-scented cream. The advice on the tette ended with a flourish: “Eat, possibly erotically, certainly with abandon.” I can certainly vouch for the “abandon”.
No question it was the classiest meal I have “cooked” — ever. And the bonus, dear reader? I had ticked the wrong box online and we received two boxes. So the following night I prepared the same meal all over again. This time, to ring the changes I remembered to obey the instructions and take the packages out of the fridge in advance to serve them at room temperature. Even more delicious — if that were possible!
— Alec Russell, FT Weekend editor
Puglia Campo vegetarian menu for two, £52 (plus delivery) — December’s menu is dedicated to Piemontese feasts; boccadilupoathome.com
It is famously difficult to secure a good table at The Wolseley, especially when it is closed. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King’s feted Green Park restaurant has been packed out since it opened in 2003. In happier days, there is much pleasure to be had people-watching from one of the central banquettes — dapper staff darting around, chatter rising from the heady mix of hedge-funders, celebrities and media moguls, and the waft of freshly fried schnitzel as it arrives at your table . . .
The latter — at least — is available now via Corbin & King’s Home Dining service, where fans of all their London restaurants can order a pick ’n’ mix feast to prep at home. One locked-down Saturday night, my husband and I got into a cheffy flap trying to follow the precise timings outlined to cook a Wolseley schnitzel main (big enough for two), a steak haché and frites from Zédel, buttery mash and a medley of seasonal veg (the last two in the microwave, admittedly). For the feast itself, we lit some candles, opened some good wine and tried to create a civilised Wolseley-esque atmosphere, despite the fact our children wouldn’t go to bed and were trying to get their hands on our Delaunay cheesecake.
There is something ingenious about being able to dine at all these various eateries at once — but we missed the people-watching, and vowed to book a babysitter as soon as possible.
— Rebecca Rose, FT Globetrotter editor
Mains, from £9.50; desserts, £6.50 (plus delivery); thewolseley.com/product-category/home-dining
Compared with the soggy pizza boxes that come through our door on an all-too regular basis, the one holding our Berenjak meal kit was beautiful. This Soho-based Persian restaurant knows its aesthetics: fantastic minimalist design, clear instructions and a QR code that means you can watch videos of their own chefs in action.
Its Mazeh Box catered for my own level of culinary ability (none). Multiple tiny pots containing everything from truffle dressing to rose and mint stacked up invitingly on the table. Squeezing pre-prepared olivieh and hummus out of plastic bags and then sprinkling it with these flavoursome herbs and spices made for restaurant-level presentation with minimal effort. Meanwhile, my husband (level of culinary ability: keeping us all alive) was delighted with the chicken kababs and koobideh sausages, which were wrapped in enormous sheets of flatbread before serving.
His one sadness was that doing this on a rainy November evening means you’re less likely to be able to use the BBQ and might have to settle for the grill instead. Still, he cheered up when he realised you can keep the industrial-grade kebab skewers. The only other issue was one that seems to have followed us from our days in buzzy restaurants to our socially distanced kitchen table: we massively over-order. I’d like to say we’ll learn from this mistake but it was all so delicious . . .
— Alice Fishburn, FT Magazine editor
Mazeh Box, £25; Kabab Kit, £30 (plus delivery); berenjakbazaar.com
Nine courses and at least 50 different ingredients demand a certain concentration — but the results are beautiful. Lyle's in Shoreditch — the epitome of modern British elegance — has assembled a seasonal trove of pumpkin and venison, ceps and Jerusalem artichokes, game broth, game liver parfait, raw scallops, quince cakes . . . it goes moreishly on . . . in neat little containers with pretty instructions and photos printed on cards.
It is delicate (the parfait) and rich (the broth), deep (the venison) and meaningful (the vanilla custard and brown butter cakes). It’s among the best food I’ve had this year, probably ever.
And it’s fun to do — once you’ve got your head round the idea that there are at least 47 instructions printed on these cards. It creates the illusion that you’re a great chef such as James Lowe knocking out Michelin-starred food at home with little fuss. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
— Alexander Gilmour, FT Food & Drink editor
Game Menu Box for two, £140 (plus delivery);
Like most people of Italian descent, I was indoctrinated at a young age with the typical family discourse: no one cooks better than Nonna; Italian food is best at home.
That has never stopped me from frequenting Italian restaurants. However, I’m predictably sceptical of my ancestral cuisine arriving on the back of a motorbike, a tepid stodgy mess in a takeaway container.
But now Luca has entered the equation. The celebrated Clerkenwell restaurant’s new offering of a weekly-changing, four-course Feasting Menu for two is nothing short of superb. On a recent Friday night, doing our best to summon the spirit of Luca’s buzzing dining room, my other half and I opened a bottle of rosso and began preparing our food — foolproof with the easy-to-follow instructions.
The generous antipasti set the tone: we polished off a creamy burrata with kale pesto, mortadella and a pistachio dressing, alongside a big bowl of smoked cod’s roe and crudités. The portions are not dainty nor for dieters. We were sated after the pasta course — a fresh bucatini quickly cooked and tossed in a punchy mix of braised octopus ragu, black olives and n’duja.
As the meal progressed, whatever was on our plates determined the star of the show so far. The “aha!” moment arrived with the spectacular slow- cooked ox cheeks doused in a rich, meaty jus and reheated sous vide on our stovetop, underlining the restaurant-level brilliance happening in our small flat — food to quell any pandemic-era debate over whether living in the city was still worth it. But then came the glorious grande finale: a chocolate panettone bread-and-butter pudding with orange custard. I don’t even like custard. But I would move to the countryside with this one.
— Niki Blasina, FT Globetrotter deputy editor
Feasting Menu for two, £80 (plus delivery); luca.bignight.app
Attempting the recipes in Ravinder Bhogal’s book Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen was a source of great joy during the first lockdown. But while the results were rewarding, getting there was often an elaborate journey. So I was intrigued to see how Jikoni would translate to a DIY meal box.
The answer is: effortlessly. The food containers that make up the vegan Farang Box are 100 per cent home-compostable and can go straight in the oven. And with instructions to heat both the starter and then the main courses for 15 minutes at 180C, it meant that both the required brainpower and washing-up were kept to a minimum.
Cooking the sweetcorn lime-leaf fritters at home kept them crispy and avoided the sogginess you sometimes get with takeaways; the hot, sweet-and-sour, roasted aubergine salad that accompanied them packed a serious punch. Next up was a rich tofu and mixed vegetable massaman curry with coconut rice — fragrant and filling. The Jikoni meal doesn’t come with pudding but, after this feast, we didn’t mind.
— Harriet Agnew, news editor, Companies
Farang Box for one, £22; for two, £40 (plus delivery); jikonilondon.com/ comfortandjoy
The Japan Centre’s Shoryu Ramen Kit
In the eyes of an expat who has worked outside of Japan for the past decade, it is amazing to see how popular ramen has become around the globe. I enjoy visiting local ramen restaurants and I’ve found hidden gems in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Paris.
More often than not, my adventures end up in disappointment. In most cases, it comes from the fact that noodles are overcooked or the broth not hot enough. So when I found the DIY Shoryu Ramen Kits on the Japan Centre website during the first lockdown, I placed an order in no time. This was not only because I was craving a decent bowl of ramen, but also because it would give me a chance to make it to my exact taste.
The kit comes with everything you need to make an authentic ramen at home: tonkotsu soup stock, ramen noodles, BBQ pork belly, spring onion and a couple of seasonings. It is hard to go wrong as long as you follow the instructions included. My tip is to thoroughly warm your bowl before pouring the broth into it. You’ll really appreciate a hot bowl of ramen, especially in the coming season.
— Joshua Ogawa
Shoryu Ramen Kit for two, £20 (plus delivery); japancentre.com/en/products
Davies and Brook
I am 40 years old and I have eaten roughly 1,000 roast chickens since I was born. Top of this list, by some margin, is Daniel Humm’s, stuffed with foie gras. Humm is head chef of Claridge’s Davies and Brook restaurant, and his chicken kit arrives uncooked but with everything poised. You just follow the simple steps laid out, arrange his nice accompanying flowers — and it’s a revelation. It’s actually like falling in love. The meat is velvety and scented with foie gras. It comes with baked butternut squash (soft and comforting), potato gratin (wildly moreish) and truffle gravy. The gravy is almost as loveable as the chicken. It’s enough for four, but it’s difficult to stop eating if it’s just two of you.
My wife didn’t quite finish her slice of the apple tart that followed. And I stole it from the fridge after she’d gone to bed.
— Alexander Gilmour, FT Food & Drink editor
Davies and Brook whole roast chicken (with sides and dessert) for four, £145 (plus delivery); daviesandbrooktogo.slerp.com
Galvin La Chapelle
With Parisian brasseries regrettably out of reach for the time being, I did the next best thing and brought the culinary delights of the French capital chez moi. Namely, the classic French cuisine with a modern twist that is on the menu at Galvin La Chapelle’s Spitalfields establishment. The pitch for its meal kit — which changes weekly — is that even a novice home cook should only need about 15 minutes in the kitchen to get a Michelin-starred meal on the table.
There are two options to choose from (including one vegetarian). We opted for the lasagne of Dorset crab with beurre nantais and pea shoots to start with, followed by the daube of Scottish beef bourguignon with truffle mash. Each course comes with a short online video tutorial by chef Jeff Galvin, which allows you to visualise what you’re aiming for. After careful assembling, both dishes looked — and more importantly, tasted — like what you might enjoy in a top restaurant.
The crab lasagne is steamed inside the tray it comes in, keeping its delicate shape. The beef is cooked sous vide, which keeps it tender and juicy, and the buttery truffle mash that accompanied it was a highlight. To finish off there was a generous slice of apple tarte Tatin, worthy of the finest Parisian pâtissier. You can’t replace the buzz of the bistro. Nonetheless, for the top-notch dinner that you end up with, the Galvin meal box is straightforward to prepare, although you do end up with a bit of time away from the dining table. My one gripe was the huge amount of non-recyclable packaging that came with the box of food when it was delivered to my door. I’ll be on the first Eurostar when the restaurants reopen.
— Harriet Agnew, news editor, Companies
La Chapelle at Home, £45 per person; £39 vegetarian (plus delivery); galvinrestaurants.com/galvin-at-home
It is hard to pull the stops out during lockdown for a special dinner, especially one you haven’t had to slave over all day yourself. Takeaways don’t really cut it either (foil packets are hardly celebratory), and catering for just four people seems a little excessive. When I heard that my favourite Indian restaurant, Michelin-starred Mayfair stalwart Gymkhana, was offering home-delivery meal kits, I felt a frisson of excitement and swiftly logged on to the Ambassador General Store (the online meal-kit emporium for Gymkhana and sibling restaurants Trishna and Brigadiers) to order its Gymkhana Club Experience.
And experience it is — right from the get-go. The dizzying array of pots and sauces and ready-marinated tandoor lamb chops arrived cosseted in “Woolcool”, an ingenious natural insulator. But I nearly succumbed to an early gin faced with the deck of nine recipe cards, beautifully printed, with instructions on cooking everything from the very simple poppadoms (a fun 15 seconds in the frying pan) to the rather more challenging wild muntjac biryani with a puff pastry crust.
This was going to require concentration. I banished the family from the kitchen and instructed them to lay the table in a festive fashion and get dressed up, as I worked my way through the cards one by one. There was, in fact, nothing to fear — it was all done within the hour — apart perhaps from the sheer amount of ghee involved.
It was a true feast, from the gol guppas we crunched with our champagne, to a richly meaty kid-goat keema with pao (admittedly a tough sell with the children), their famously unctuous dal maharani, the tandoori chops, spinach and biryani, right through to a decadently syrupy gulab jamun dessert. We even had leftover muntjac for lunch the next day.
— Rebecca Rose, FT Globetrotter editor
Gymkhana Club Experience for four, £110 (plus delivery); ambassadorgeneralstore.com
Ordering sushi for delivery is not exactly groundbreaking. But — plot twist — what if you made it yourself?
That’s what Dinings SW3, an upscale Japanese fusion restaurant in Chelsea, proposes with its new meal kits. At home, diners are provided with ingredients to make the restaurant’s popular tar-tar chips (small, crisp-potato taco shells piled with posh proteins and lovely sauces) and four types of temaki hand rolls. Menus are provided with instructions for pairing ingredients and garnishes, and crucially, for rolling the sushi. My partner and I did our best to channel Masaki Sugisaki, the restaurant’s celebrated chef, and recently gave them both a go.
The tar-tar chips were a revelation — a reminder of yet another element of weddings and drinks parties that Covid has deprived us of this year: the delight of eating canapés. Melt-in-your-mouth salmon tartare with sliced avocado and yuzu aioli; Cornish lobster splashed with a spicy taramo sauce; seared Wagyu beef atop chilli miso. I could have eaten 100 more. They were ludicrously delicious.
The 16-piece temaki kit, however, is what we were most excited for. Hand-rolling our own sushi was good fun — and fostered a bit of light competition. Construction skills (or lack thereof) aside, the bluefin tuna, smothered in a rich and spicy sesame aioli, and the hand-dived scallop rolls were outstanding. The quality and freshness of the ingredients were appreciated with every bite.
The rest of Dinings’ new delivery menu is also hard to resist. We particularly enjoyed the superb sliders — both Wagyu and lobster — and black sesame madeleines. It is on the expensive side, so, yes, you’ll pay for the pleasure. But you’ll be glad you did.
— Niki Blasina, FT Globetrotter deputy editor
Dinings temaki handroll kit, £135; tar-tar chips box, £75 (plus delivery); bbot.menu/diningssw3delivery
A common lament by expat Americans living in London used to be the lack of decent Mexican food in the capital, ranking as a complaint alongside heinous customer service and a paucity of mixer taps. Not so much any more.
Londoners now have options, from the Wahaca chain to much-championed restaurants like Breddos. My favourite, though, is El Pastor. Located in an archway in Borough Market that once featured in a Harry Potter film, the original restaurant quickly became a favourite of hacks working nearby in the old FT headquarters when it opened in late 2016. The tacos are excellent — full of fresh, strong flavours.
So it seemed like a right choice for a meal-kit experiment during lockdown. Mexican food also is more forgiving than most when reheated and, unlike other meal kits that required more than a week’s notice, El Pastor needed less lead time, even if I had to pick it up from its King’s Cross outlet. (If you are patient, they do deliver nationwide too).
I ordered the Mexican Feast for four. At home, my unpacked box contained an extraordinary array of containers with guacamole, tortilla chips, tuna and chicken tostadas, short-rib and al pastor meat mix for tacos, corn salad, refried beans, corn tortillas and salsas. We also ordered a few extras such as chicharron pork scratchings and refried beans. The scale of the packaging was a bit alarming but most of it compostable.
The food was delicious — particularly the house tacos of marinated pork shoulder and a tostada of raw tuna marinated in chile de árbol and sesame salsa. And building the various tacos with the colour-coded containers was genuinely fun. A real Saturday-night treat.
— Tony Tassell, financial opinion editor
El Pastor Mexican Feast for four, £85; tacoselpastor.slerp.com
Stein’s at Home
Eating out at one of Rick Stein’s restaurants has always been a favourite treat during yearly trips to Cornwall. This year however, missing fresh Cornish fare, I was happy to discover that his simple, straightforward menu boxes can be delivered to London. I put in an online order for an Indonesian-curry box from a wide selection of menus, including a luxurious lobster box at £100 for two.
The food arrived beautifully packaged, lined with wool insulation and freezer packs, so no need to make room in your fridge. First up were locally sourced moules with an easy-to-prepare marinière sauce. While we were prepping these, we poured a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc we also ordered (Stein fully encourages a taste before cooking). The main dish — a fragrant Indonesian curry — was quick to prepare with all the ingredients (a mix of fresh sea bass, cod and prawns, curry paste, coconut milk and rice) weighed out, and accompanied by a crunchy green-bean salad. This was rounded off by a self-assembly passion fruit Eton mess with Chantilly cream.
This is not a London-restaurant meal kit — admittedly — but, available for delivery all over the UK, it is a delicious and very reasonably priced taste of the sea for any landlocked readers who are missing coastal air and the sound of the waves.
— Camilla Woolsey, senior content editor, FT Live
Stein’s at Home Indonesian Curry Menu, £55 for two (plus delivery); rickstein.com/steins-at-home
Have you tried any meal kits from London restaurants? Share your best tips in the comments
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