If you're sick to death of Deliveroo, it’s time to take a look at the meat box. Forget vegan meats and plant-based pretenders. It’s dark and wet and we’re all stuck indoors — there’s no point making ourselves any more miserable.
Steakhouses and brasseries have been moving their menus online and into cardboard boxes, with a bit of home prep involved to ensure it's fresh on the plate. We’ve all got used to the idea that you can order anything over the internet — but there’s still something faintly thrilling in opening up an innocuous package and finding a Sunday roast staring back at you.
And it seems bored Brits are warming to the idea of prep at home restaurant food: over the last 12 months, sales are up more than 92 per cent. So given it's the latest lockdown craze, it's time to take a look at meaty meal boxes.
Santana Grill’s orange tent is a Westminster institution — every lunchtime their friendly owner Rury sells what are, hands down, the finest burritos in London. Now they’ve started selling tacos for locked-down office workers. The first thing you notice is the riot of colours — pink pickled onions, a splash of green from the fresh coriander, the golden taco disc like some Mexican sun symbol (quickly grilled on a dry pan) and the rich dark brown shreds of dripping pork.
The meat is phenomenal — salty, sinuous but without being at all stringy, impossible to improve. It is the ideal for what slow-cooked pork should be. When tied together with the black beans, onions and fresh herbs, the flavour is something else. And the sauces. My God. They throw in two sauces of your choice — arbol (spicy), chipotle (medium) and salsa verde (mild).
I’m normally someone that likes heat, but these sauces give you so much more than that. The salsa verde brings an almost impossible freshness. It was so good that the following day me and my girlfriend/sous chef cooked up a couple of chicken thighs with chipotle paste, threw them on a salad, chucked on some of our own black beans before smothered them in the stuff. These sauces could make anything taste delicious — luckily they don’t have to, because the Santana Grill tacos are already impossibly delicious.
santanagrill.com, orders must be placed by Wednesday 4:30pm for delivery on Friday
Patty & Bun
The first thing to note is how attractive everything looks in its vacuum-sealed pouches. Both the patties and the bacon come from HG Walter (which, I’m reliably informed by my bougie London friends, is the butcher). The brioche buns arrive in a fun little packet as if you’re getting your mid-Atlantic BA meal. But don’t worry, the burger ends up tasting infinitely better than any aeroplane food.
I have to admit, I tried a little of the caramelised onion before I started cooking and wasn’t convinced so instead opted for the pickled onions, having the ex-smoker's addiction to anything fermented and/or soaked in vinegar. My sous chef chose the caramelised version and in all honestly I was a little jealous by the end — the burger had a kind of smokey depth that the pickled onions, tangy and delicious though they were, couldn’t quite match.
Anyway, onto the cooking. We went from nought to table in well under ten minutes. And while the process is quick, the speed does require a degree of precision. I have a newfound respect for our burger flippin’ brethren — my landlady won’t thank me for saying it, but I’m glad we took the battery out of our fire alarm. We followed the instructions pretty closely, loading up each side of the bun with the appropriate sauces and salads and in the correct order. The result was a fantastically juicy burger with a fantastic range of flavours. As I was cooking the burgers (for half the suggested four minutes, I like to live on the wild side) there was an almost gamey aroma from the meat that suggested it had been properly hung (that’s the kind of thing meat connoisseurs say, right?).
The final thing to note is the price — at £16 for two people the box is extremely good value. The four person version is £25, a price so good that if I lived in a shared flat with two other meat lovers then I would consider setting up a standing order for a fortnightly Friday treat.
shop.pattyandbun.co.uk... nationwide delivery
I have a confession: I am a massive roast snob. I have a multi-metric ranking system for Sunday roasts (meat, roast potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshires and gravy, each with their own sub-criteria). Pre-pandemic, I found myself constantly assigning scores of around the three out of ten mark, even in the face of criticism from the sous chef that I’m being unfair. The Blacklock home roast is better than almost any roast I’ve had at a London gastropub.
The meat had that deep beefy flavour and ruby complexion of a properly hung cut; the carrots were phenomenally sweet, crunchy bursts of salt-laden umami, the cauliflower cheese had a blue cheese tang that complimented the cauliflower’s natural almost sulphuric flavour (often roasts fall down on the veg metric — but not Blacklock’s). We heated up the gravy in the beef’s frying juices after whacking the meat in the oven for a mere eight minutes (quicker than Blacklock themselves recommend but hey, I have the palette of an anaemic caveman). I was sceptical about the idea of reheated roast potatoes — and they do have that very particular yet subtle flavour of warmed up tatties — but they came out beautifully crispy after just 25 minutes in the oven. Far better than I had expected.
shop.theblacklock.com, nationwide delivery
Never again will I say those fated words: ‘I could have just cooked this at home’. Steak and chips, fiendishly simple and yet excruciatingly difficult to perfect. In order to do it justice, you really need a flight deck squadron leader, barking out orders for each step, down to the choreographed nanosecond. Steak and chips, the food of thrusting 80s businessmen. The perfect combination of carbohydrate and flame-seared protein. The pinnacle of Western European alpha cuisine (and, just to sweeten the deal, their lovely PR Irena threw in a pre-mixed bottle of martini and a delightful Syrah).
So I have an awful confession to make. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I screwed it up. Again, the steaks had been beautifully cut with an even seam of quartz-like fat down their outer edge. The chips — gratuitously thick — came with a healthy knob of beef drippings in which to roast them.
And yet somehow I managed to muddle the timings, and only slightly. The steak was medium rather than blue (again, caveman). I feel guilty — I could have done it better. I should have fired up the charcoal barbeque (something Hawksmoor suggests) and given the thick slabs of consecrated cow a proper send off. Instead it got my crappy induction hob. The chips deserved to be properly submerged in golden bubbling oil.
And yet it was still delicious, the tender stem broccoli had been paired with this fantastically tangy anchovy butter and expertly prepared peppercorn sauce — I just felt I’d let everyone down a bit: the good people of Hawksmoor, my sous chef/girlfriend, poor old Bessy the beefsteak.
This, I suppose, is the biggest drawback of the restaurant kit: the finest ingredients from across the British isles can be shipped out, but — rather than being left up to some diligent professional to prepare — it’s handed over to old pig brains like yours truly.
shop.thehawksmoor.com, nationwide delivery
Flesh & Buns
The bao bun is one of London’s more recent food trends. You can see why, these impossibly fluffy, paperwhite clouds feel like the ultimate comfort food. And there was something strangely familiar about these pork steamed buns. With their pickled apple and crispy-skinned pork belly, they tasted almost like the pork baps off a spit-roasted carcass you get at country fairs. There’s something oddly reassuring that two different peoples can stumble upon the same culinary truth — that crispy pork, apple and white bread is the pinnacle of good-natured nourishment, a kind of archetype shared across cultures.
Flesh & Buns send you a bamboo steamer with the kit so you can get the buns just right. They also include something called a ‘shiso leaf’, which Wikipedia reliably informs me is a Japanese plant in the same family as mint. It gave the bun a slightly more sophisticated flavour so, naturally, I preferred it without. At around £15 a head per person (for two), it’s definitely a fun mid-week meal.
www.restaurantkitsuk.c... nationwide delivery
There’s been a debate in the office over whether at-home burgers might actually be better than their Deliverooed cousins. Sure, the patties cooked by a professional burger chef will have been grilled to a higher standard (ahem, see above…) but do they survive a journey in those insulated turquoise cubes? A burger should really be eaten within a few minutes of being griddled — a rule that applies even more so to fries and chips. Sogginess, and indeed the process of soggification, are crucial factors when thinking about what takeaway to order. You would be mad to order something like a burger (or a pizza for that matter) from somewhere more than a mile or two away. A curry — which retains its heat and can get bashed about in transit — can travel across London unscathed.
Helping to put the debate to rest is Honest Burger. God, their sauce is tasty. It floats somewhere around the Mary Rose dressing end of the spectrum but with a healthy nod towards a more traditional burger sauce. The pickles are dosed up with dill and mustard seed but they’re infinitely nicer than some Lidl cornichons. The patties had a robustness that I didn’t find from other places. There was certainly less anxiety when trying to flip these beefy disks of meat. All in all, a decent burger.
shop.honestburgers.co.... , nationwide delivery in 3 working days
Zip! Flash! 80s revival graphics! ‘Cybernetic’ ketchup! Brioche bun ‘exoskeletons’! Meet the RIBINATOR (their caps locks). This fleshy monstrosity must have been designed by a group of Leeds footy lads after a couple of pints down their local spoons. A BBQ rib dripping in brown sticky sauce and enclosed in a bright yellow glazed bun.
On initial sighting, the RIBINATOR does not look promising. A pink slab of reconstituted flesh and not a rib bone in sight. The cuboid of flesh was supposed to get a quick flash fry before being roasted, but it seemed to catch on my non-stick pan and threatened to disintegrate. No bother, I zapped it down into the oven before toasting the buns and unsealing the pickles.
Flank, it should be said, is one of those nose-to-tail, whole animal restaurants. Looking at the right-angled pressed block of pink animal bits, I was worried we’d been sent the offcuts. But throw it all together and the RIBINATOR ends up as one of those guilty pleasures. Dripping in BBQ sauce and carby, bready sweetness, the thing is awfully, almost disgustingly tasty, the meat surprisingly succulent. I felt I had unfairly maligned the poor RIBINATOR, it’s incel-esque attitude obscuring what’s really just a bit of fun in a bun.
restaurantkitsuk.com/#... nationwide delivery, order by 8pm for next day dispatch
Bleecker Burger is not an unknown entity in The Spectator offices. At least once a week someone (normally our deputy political editor) will put in an order and the editorial office will be filled with the sweet scent of beef fat and salted fries. A colleague fell ill a couple of weeks back and a Bleecker box was promptly sent to his home in an attempt to nurse him back to health. So it's fair to say we’re Bleecker fans.
The cook box gives you everything you need to replicate their unique burgers at home — right down to the perfect mix of salt and pepper for seasoning. Once we’d fried the things up, the sous chef suggested that Bleecker is just a posh McDonald's. Or, to be more exact, it’s like a McDonald's but with everything fine-tuned and beefed up to perfection. None of that limp lettuce and long life bread. The fact is that Bleecker doesn’t mess around pretending it’s some gourmet pub burger. It's a proper, fast food hamburger. And all the better for it.
Just because this isn’t some gentrified gastro affair, it doesn’t mean they’re not taking ingredients seriously. The beef is from Aubrey Allen and is accompanied by a proper firm slice of cheese rather than that floppy American plastic cheese. Like all good burger joints they have an addictive ‘secret sauce’ (Bleecker send you a whole bottle of the stuff). But I’ve always thought it’s the buns that really make a Bleecker — the bread compresses right down as you squeeze the burger until it becomes a coagulated mass of pure beefy, cheesy burgery goodness.
www.bleecker.co.uk/diy..., nationwide delivery on Fridays
The amount of food that came with Smokestak was mad. Again, my caveman instincts returned — we lived off the contents of that cardboard carcass for two straight days.
Smokestak threw in some odd looking grey tortilla chips that have to be fried at home. They were fine (although the sous chef has had a skin graft thanks to hot roast potato oil so the whole affair was, in her words, ‘triggering’). It’s the beef brisket that really made the whole thing. Already charred black around the edges, the thing came out of the oven with that extraordinary moistness you only get with slow cooked meat. We cooked it up with some charred greens and salsa rossa as well as roasted baby new potatoes. The meal had the feeling of a pared-down (perhaps mid-week?) Sunday roast in all the right ways.
The following night we wolfed down their warm beetroot and goats cheese salad — a classic, but a classic for a reason. The Smokestak version is about as good as it gets. Then (more food!) we moved onto the pulled pork shoulder (and I hope Smokestak don’t mind me admitting this) but we went a bit off piste. Out came the Morrisons brioche buns, we loaded up on shredded pig and smothered the stuff in pickled cucumbers and red chillies. Both gave the pulled pork a wonderful freshness. Finally — after necking our burnt peach old fashioned, something I didn’t know existed and I almost wish I still didn’t because it’s painfully more-ish — we tucked into a loaf of sticky toffee pudding.
Smokestak’s online shop is one of the most extensive out there. And they really do take their slow-cooked meat seriously.
www.smokestakshop.co.u... , nationwide delivery on Fridays, Londonwide delivery on Saturdays
Lyle’s is the top end of the restaurant box range. Imagine white tablecloths and low lighting rather than grilled patties and dripping with American cheese. We went for their game box, which came with six courses including two puddings and bread (bread is a course, obvs). The sous chef assembled the razor clams, pork broth and Jerusalem artichoke — it immediately did that thing that I thought was only possible in fancy restaurants with french maître ds: combining the alien and the familiar. The clam had a fleshy texture that complemented the golden porky brew while artichokes floated past with a chewy, high class crisp texture.
Next, warm beetroot, smoked eel and horseradish shavings. Again, oddly restaurant-y for something thrown together in our tiny, basement flat. Then, the venison. I have to admit that by this point I left it up to the sous chef. The thing came back expertly cooked, again (and I’m sorry to keep repeating myself, but it’s a point that needs repeating) like something from a professional restaurant kitchen. Celeriac puree is (or was, at least pre-pandemic) the height of restaurant sophistication. And there it was, a dollop of the stuff to go with the brown butter and radicchio salad; all finished off with a marmalade pudding and custard.
If you’re looking to impress, Lyle’s is the place to go.
www.lyleslondon.com, nationwide delivery on Fridays, lighter midweek options also available