Home food delivery is one of the very few businesses that have actually thrived during the pandemic. The thousands of vans and scooters that constantly criss-cross the capital’s streets, delivering recipe boxes and takeaways, have become a regular feature of life under Covid.
But what about the fine dining market? Gourmands have been locked down and out of their favourite high-end restaurants, meaning that many of London’s finest eateries have had to pivot their operations to cater for a new business model where luxury is served up at home. And whilst nothing can replace the thrill of going out somewhere special to eat on a Friday or Saturday evening, several upscale establishments have come up with an experience that, for the moment at least, is almost as good as being in the restaurant itself.
So, forget bingeing in front of the telly with a curry or pizza that’s been schlepped across town on the back of a moped. It’s time to put on those glad rags, get the best cutlery out and light a candle or two. Dinner is served and your table awaits.
For the serious foodie: Elystan Street
Serial award-winner Phil Howard is often described in the press as ‘the chef’s chef’. He doesn’t have his own reality TV show and you won’t see him fooling about in the celebrity gossip pages but that’s because he’s too busy getting on with the serious business of “delivering pleasure through harmony of flavours” as he puts it.
Arguably one of the finest chefs in the world, his restaurants have won multiple Michelin stars over the years and Elystan Street in Chelsea is no exception. Their cook-at-home hampers, which aim to replicate the excitement of unwrapping an exquisite gift, actually require very little cooking at all; just a little re-heating here and a bit of sauce drizzling there to add the finishing touch to one or two of the dishes.
My own hamper reflected the typically unfussy approach – putting quality of ingredients and taste above all else – which Phil is famous for. I chose the cured Cornish sea bream with dressed fennel, tardivo, blood orange, olive oil and chilli for starter, followed by haunch of venison with roasted pear, celeriac, sprout tops, red wine and pickled walnut. My dining companion opted for the salad of marinated mushrooms with shaved cauliflower, garlic leaf pesto and Marcona almonds, followed by salt baked celeriac with winter greens, calcot onions and truffle and hazelnut pesto.
Dessert was a delightfully light and delicate ‘Islands’ chocolate mousse with nut clusters and candied orange, rounded off with a cheese board served alongside walnut bread and a spiced pear chutney. Forget TV dinners; this is superlative food from a real master chef.
elystanstreet.com / 020 7628 5005
For the sushi connoisseur: Hot Stone
Chef-patron Padam Raj Rai has over 19 years’ experience in Japanese cuisine, having worked at some of the UK’s most prestigious restaurants including Nobu, Zuma and Tsukiji in Mayfair where he was head chef. His Islington eatery, Hot Stone, which is one of only seven in the country to serve certified Kobe beef (those are the cattle who get massaged and fed beer whilst listening to classical music – although apparently that’s all just a myth!), was voted Best DIY restaurant in London by the Evening Standard and will be joined at the end of February by a sister branch in Windmill Street, Fitzrovia.
My delivery was an Instagrammer’s dream, featuring an omakase box wrapped in a covetable Japanese-print furoshiki cloth, containing beautifully presented pieces of nigiri and maki laid out in elegant rows. There were mouth-watering cuts of delicately marbled Wagyu beef tataki, perfect rolls of prized fatty tuna topped with truffle and caviar as well as a scallop carpaccio and slices of tender butterfish sashimi served with home-made truffle and onion ponzu salsa. Side dishes included a spinach gomae as well as preserved pickles and vegetables plus a variety of soy sauces ranging from three to 30 years old, all brewed by the Okada family of Japan in a century-old cedar barrel. Oishii!
hotstonelondon.com / 020 3302 8226
For the king or queen of bling: Novikov
Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov’s three-storey Mayfair emporium has long been famed as one of the places to see and be seen in the capital. And, like the restaurant itself, its Novikov 2 Go menu offers both Asian and Italian cuisine fit for a king or queen (or oligarch). Everything about their home delivery service shouts premium, from the boutique-like bags that the driver hands over (printed with ‘Novikov’ in big, bold lettering so your neighbours are in no doubt that you’re a person of wealth and taste) to the finely crafted chopsticks and logo-embossed containers that contain your aspirational aperitifs. I adored the one called ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’ made with Ketel One vodka, peach bitters and honey water.
Unlike some fashionable haunts, however, Novikov is not a case of style over substance. This is seriously good food, prepared and presented with passion and care. My steak tartare, from the Italian starters section – and quite unusual to see on a home delivery menu – was total and utter perfection whilst the roast truffle duck, served as an Asian main dish with duck fried rice, was decadent bliss.
Their traditional Cacio e Pepe pasta main was just as good as the version I remember eating at a trattoria just off the Via Veneto in Rome, and as for the hazelnut profiteroles with vanilla sauce dessert – what is the Russian for Oh. My. God?
novikovrestaurant.co.uk / 020 7399 4330
For the highflier: One Fine Dine
One Fine Dine is the earthbound partner to private jet catering company, On Air Dining. It is run by Daniel Hulme who cut his teeth in the kitchens of Scott’s in Mayfair and also The Square – which, under the tenure of Phil Howard, held two Michelin stars – before going on to cook for various billionaires as a private chef aboard mega-yachts across the globe. With that kind of background, you can be sure he knows a thing or two about satisfying demanding and expensive tastes.
My box was delivered by a driver in liveried uniform and contained a smart logo-emblazoned apron (free with orders over £150) to wear whilst giving my food its final prep. Not that I had cause to get messy; the mains just required reheating for a few minutes. The more intricate starters required careful plating to ensure they look the way a chef would present them in a restaurant, but detailed instruction cards are thoughtfully provided to help with this and there are even videos on the company’s website which you can follow if you need to.
Set menus are available but I ordered a la carte and was knocked out by the quality of my Balik smoked salmon with caviar and compressed apple starter, followed by Denham Vale Beef Wellington. My companion chose the chicken liver parfait with duck bon-bon to start and blackened North Atlantic miso cod as her main course. The tiramisu dessert was excellent, but the outstanding citrus tart with fresh raspberries and cream quenelle really had us feeling like billionaires.
onefinedine.com / 020 3693 3888
For the ultimate carpet picnic: Fortnum & Mason
As well as being the original inventors of the scotch egg, Fortnum’s has been the corner grocers of choice for discerning Londoners since the early 1700s, although they actually started out by selling second-hand candles which had been thrown out by the royal family. Their iconic wicker picnic baskets are a regular sight at the best outdoor events of the season, usually seen being unloaded from the boot of a large Bentley or Range Rover.
The sporting events may be cancelled for the moment but that’s no reason not to spoil yourself still, as I did, with one of their luxury hampers. I opted for the Mid-Afternoon Tea version which was delivered with suitable aplomb by the courteous driver of one of their smart duck egg-coloured vans.
Large enough to pull double duty as a premium picnic basket once weather permits, the branded ‘Huntsman’ hamper contained all the decadent goodies necessary for a fine front-room feast. This included six 25g tins of their famous classic and world teas, a jar of their strawberry preserve, two different kinds of shortbread, two ornately decorated and highly giftable tins of biscuits. In addition to this there was an assortment of various different chocolate bars and selection boxes – my absolute favourite being the white chocolate strawberry and black pepper flavoured one.
fortnumandmason.com / 020 7734 8040
For the budding Scandi-chef: Aquavit
Nordic-inspired Aquavit in St. James’s Market, another Michelin star winner, offers a slightly different take on the luxury at home angle. Classed as DIY boxes and meant for sharing between two, the ingredients come packaged in vacuum packed tubes which might look a bit daunting at first until you read the accompanying instruction cards to find that all that’s required are some rudimentary cooking skills.
Aquavit London is the sister of the original New York restaurant, which has been in business since 1987 and is the proud holder of two Michelin stars. The St. James’s outpost has three options available for home delivery each Thursday: pescatarian, vegetarian and meat. Being a die-hard carnivore, I chose the latter and tucked into tender Beef Rydeberg (a classic Scandinavian dish which is also famed as a hangover cure), black pudding with lardo and lingonberries, pulled venison bao buns served with tasty juniper mayonnaise and a portion of Swedish meatballs with creamy mash potatoes and lingonberries.
aquavitrestaurants.com / 020 7024 9848