It’s been one hell of a year for the restaurant industry. Back in March, we entered lockdown, restaurants shuttered their doors, and many had to get creative about how to serve food to hungry customers around the country.
Businesses were forced to look at other options to keep afloat in spite of everything, whether they upped their online game investing in takeaway and delivery apps or transformed themselves into essential grocery shops.
As for us foodies, well, we’ve properly missed going out for dinner. Yes, we started off okay – making sourdough and banana bread and even trying our hand at all the pasta and curries we were missing. But fast forward to December and, let’s face it, we’re all sick of our own cooking. It’s just not the same.
Thanks be, then, to all the excellent restaurants that are now providing restaurant-quality food for us to make at home. These weekly menu drops and special one-off collaborations have been selling out like hotcakes and the DIY meal kit is one item we don’t want taken off the menu anytime soon.
Some involve numbered step-by-step instructions using pre-measured ingredients, others simply putting things together on a plate, but do these meal kits deliver? We got the HuffPost UK team to taste-test and try them out.
Kolamba at Home, £36 for two, nationwide delivery
“Everything arrives feeling as though it has just been taken out of the fridge and all individual packages are clearly labelled with cooking instructions. With three dishes to warm through – young jackfruit curry, dhal and a beetroot curry – and aromatic basmati rice to cook, the meal itself isn’t exactly light on washing up. That being said, the preparation couldn’t be easier and all the dishes (with the exception of the rice) take exactly the same amount of time to warm up, saving the potential headache of how and when to serve.
“Set out on the table alongside the toasted pol sambol, lime pickle and lime and date and lime chutney, the complete spread really does resemble a restaurant meal and offeres extremely generous portions for two people. The dishes complement each other perfectly, with the crunchy beetroot curry and creamy dhal particular highlights for us, and it is clear how much effort had gone into preparing them by the Kolamba team. Ultimately, if it were a choice between going out to a restaurant or cooking up a meal kit, I would pretty much always choose to eat out. But for as long as we don’t have a choice a meal kit like Kolamba’s seems to be absolutely the next best thing, and would be perfect to order in for a special occasion.” – Sarah Tunbridge, Weekend Editor
“This menu consists of ham croquetas, tortilla, gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns), pulpo a la Gallega (an octopus dish), beetroot salad with horseradish cream and Presa Iberica (pork) with veal jus and mojo verde. The first thing to say is that almost every single dish is delicious – the croquetas are salty and crisp, the octopus is tender and delicately flavoured and the prawns are garlicky little bites of heaven. But it’s the Presa Iberica that is the real star of the show – the meat is succulent, while the mojo verde adds a nice acidic bite.
“There is only one overwhelming issue with the meal kit – it’s incredibly difficult to juggle cooking several dishes at once, especially when a number of them have to be cooked at the last minute. It takes two of us around 30 minutes to make the meal – but by the time we have cooked all five of the hot dishes (and washed the pans that we needed to re-use) most of them are pretty cold. In other words, it’s pretty clear why tapas restaurants bring dishes out as they become ready. At £60 a box for two people, cold food is not what you’re looking for. However, this meal box would be an excellent anniversary gift to a couple if you were offering to do the cooking as part of the present. If not, you could split the dishes into two courses, with a break from cooking in the middle.” – Jasmin Gray, News reporter
Rochelle Canteen x Resy Home Specials, £80 for two, London-only delivery
“This is the mother of all restaurant meal kits – if you look up the word ‘unit’ in the dictionary you’d find a picture of Rochelle Canteen and Resy’s collaboration. It’s a hefty price tag starting at £80, but it’s also a hefty multi-course meal complete with starter, sides, main and a dessert, as well as a specially curated Spotify playlist to fully recreate the restaurant at home experience. For those wanting to go all out or looking for a lockdown treat, you have the choice to bump it up to £150 for the full works, which includes a welcome cocktail, bottle of wine, a bag of tea leaves as a digestif, candles, beautiful ceramic dishes to keep afterwards and even hand-cooked crisps to snack on while you prep.
“Each week is an exclusive menu inspired by different chefs across the globe and we end up trying chef Margarita Forres from Manila-based restaurant LUSSO’s menu. Starting with a zingy raw sea bass, coconut and lime salad and wonderfully smoky, charred barbecued prawns alongside a gigantic comforting bowl of chicken and pork belly adobo served with lardo brown rice and shiitake mung bean noodles – a Filipino feast fit for a king. All the hard work has been done prior, so you merely finish everything off on the hob and oven. A word of warning, wear loose-fitting clothing because there’s a lot of food to get through – we have plenty leftover for lunch the next day.” – Angela Hui, life reporter
Padella Pasta Kits, £15 for two, nationwide delivery
“I adore fresh pasta, but have never been to either of Padella’s London restaurants because the queues are legendary. As a commuter with a train to catch, bookable alternatives always take precedence. So I’m delighted to discover I can try Padella from my Hertfordshire home during lockdown, thanks to nationwide deliveries. I’m initially disappointed when the box arrives, though. It has an insane amount of packaging and the ingredients look a little meagre for two people; you receive a (small-ish) bag of pasta, a tub of parmesan, a tub of partially-made beef shin ragu and three lonely cubes of butter.
“But things improve when I start cooking. All I need to do is add the butter to the ragu in one pan and boil the pasta in another. You then add some of the pasta water to the sauce, top with parmesan and voila! The dish is complete within 10 minutes – perfect for a weekday treat. The end result is delicious; the beef shin melts away and the sauce is silky, rich and comforting. The dinner may look smaller than my usual homemade bolognese mountain, but it’s far more decadent and despite my initial misgivings about the portion size, I’m full by the end.” – Rachel Moss, life reporter
Salon at Home, £59 for two, London only delivery
“From the rich, warming venison and potato pie to the indulgent coffee panna cotta and chocolate ganache dessert, the food from Salon was faultless. I loved that it was a set menu, meaning the deliberation over what to order was taken out of our hands, and we tried starters I wouldn’t normally reach for. I’m always slightly nervous about bitter leaves, such as radicchio, but these were subtle and complemented the beetroot and goats cheese curd. It was so simple to prepare. We had to reheat the main in the oven while we ate the starters.
“The most difficult part was plating up and trying to make it look like Instagram-worthy restaurant food – but I don’t think we did too badly. I’d definitely order this again for a special occasion. For a moment, we thought we were in a restaurant. The added benefits are eating the desert curled up on your sofa with the rest of your wine and exclaiming how delicious the food is without breaking any social etiquette. Oh, and less washing up!” – Brogan Driscoll, life editor,
Dishoom Vegan Sausage Naan Roll Kit, £16 for two, nationwide delivery.
“Breakfast and chai for two for £16 isn’t mega cheap for essentially a sausage roll and a cuppa at home, but this is a nice treat when you’re getting rich and ‘meaty’ vegan sausages, and fresh ingredients delivered straight to your door. I get a lockdown thrill from the unboxing and find the recipe really easy to follow. I have to use a glass bottle to roll out the naans as I don’t own a rolling pin but it feels rewarding to make something that looks so impressive and tastes so delicious, without too much effort.
“The vegan sausages have almost a black pudding vibe to them – spicy and made with fermented beetroot, mushroom and onion (I had to look that up because they do not taste like vegetables). I love the combo of flavours – vegan cream cheese, tomato-chilli jam and coriander, all rolled up in hot, fresh naan. –An excellent twist on your classic sausage roll. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more kick in the jam and for the price I would preferr the sugar and oat milk to add to the tea included. But the chai was very fragrant and warming on a grey autumn day. And yes I did eat both sausage rolls and drink all the tea because I live on my own. No regrets.” – Becky Barnes, audience editor
La Mamma Mia Pasta Meal Kit, £35 for two. London only delivery
“Italian food is one of my favourite cuisines, but making it at home is just never the same for me, which is why something like La Mia Mamma is great for fans of authentic flavours and fresh pasta. Their concept is based on inviting Italian home cooks from the 20 different regions over to the UK every three months to introduce new recipes for them which feature in a menu rotation every three months. As such, the food is fully of heart. I try the Sunday In Napoli kit, which consists of pasta alla Genovese (eight hours slow cooked beef in a rich onion sauce), polpettone con friarielli (wild broccoli meatloaf) and a pistachio tiramisù dessert kit, which includes homemade ingredients to build your own version of the classic sweet treat.
“Also in the box was a bottle of wine, with customers able to pick red or white to accompany their meal, and it’s all included in the price. I’ll admit I had my reservations about the meatloaf, but it was delicious and I was pleased to try something I’d probably never have ordered myself. The beef in the pasta sauce was tender and fell apart – exactly as you would want it – and even better took less than 10 minutes to prepare.” – Ash Percival, entertainment editor
“This meal kit comes with a Kashmiri ghee roast (seasoned rack of lamb), tandoori new potatoes and mustard-marinated broccoli with a makhani sauce to pour over it. In short – an absolute flavour bomb. Each part of the meal comes individually wrapped and marinated, so all you really have to do is take it out of the packets and cook it. The instructions are super easy to follow and let you know how to cook the ingredients on a BBQ if you’re up for the challenge, or in your oven. I opt for the latter. The meal takes about half an hour to cook and the only real preparation is bunging it all in different roasting dishes, and searing the lamb rack in a frying pan before popping it in the oven. The end result is absolutely delicious – amazing quality lamb with so much meat on it that my partner and I can’t finish it all (you could probably feed three people, maybe even four, with this) – potatoes bursting with flavour and a really interesting take on broccoli. If anything it feels slightly too rich because there is so much flavour happening across every inch of my plate. In lockdown, there’s really no better way to spend a Friday night in.” – Natasha Hinde, life reporter
Giz ‘n’ Green x Grey Goose Friendsmas Feast Delivery Kit, £65 for two, London only delivery
″This meal box is Christmassy indeed: Christmasier than Santa Claus’ morning routine on December 25. Be warned though, much like Christmas day itself, it veers into teeth-chatteringly sweet territory as it progresses. To kick-off, there’s a gingerbread man to decorate and fasten to the edge of your pre-dinner cocktail, which is fun, but the cocktail was too sweet for an aperitif. Then the food: pigs in blankets poutine is a novel idea, and turkey gravy, gorgeously sour cranberry sauce and bread sauce – as well as the cheese - make an indulgent creamy mess to put atop tater tots and the pigs themselves: though two pigs in blankets is beyond tight. The main is a brioche bun essentially stuffed with the aforementioned trimmings, plus crunchy Brussels sprout slaw and a turkey fillet and sage and onion stuffing patty.
“It’s indulgent in all the right ways, and nearly as fun as an actual Christmas dinner. Two deep-fried mince pies for dessert fell into the novelty category but a final espresso martini ended things on a high. Get past the sweetness and everything’s well-marked, easy-to-cook, and great fun.” – Adam Bloodworth, life and entertainment writer