As of August 2022 Andrew Edmunds is no longer partnering with Dishpatch.
I wasn’t expecting to try out Dishpatch, the company which partners with high profile restaurants to offer heat at home delivery kits, again so soon after my recent disappointing experience. That I am is partly a tribute to their excellent customer service, because after I filled out their feedback form and gave them a somewhat lukewarm review they got in touch and very kindly offered me a money off voucher to use on a subsequent order.
So I found myself flicking through the options online, wondering what would work well reheated at home. But what did I feel like? Was I in a paella or a rendang mood, was I drawn to osso bucco or sea trout en croûte? I eventually narrowed it down to two restaurants I’ve eaten at in real life. The first, Hoppers, did a kothu roti which sounded marvellous and struck me as hard to cock up at home on a hob. But I eventually went for the second, Andrew Edmunds, because of a lovely meal I had there about five years ago.
I was talking to a friend recently and I told her that I’d been doing fine in January, apart from not feeling able to eat in restaurants, or drink in pubs, or sit outside because it was too fucking cold, or to see friends in the flesh, or go on holidays. Apart from all that, I said, I was having a ball. But one of the things I miss most is taking a Friday off with friends and catching a train to London for a day of shopping (for fragrance: don’t judge), good coffee, great pubs and – always the centrepiece of one of these occasions – a truly leisurely lunch somewhere.
And one of those lunches took place in Andrew Edmunds, a beautifully ramshackle restaurant in Soho that has been doing its thing, largely unchanged, for the best part of forty years. Andrew Edmunds’ menu with Dishpatch – billed as “date night” to capitalise, I imagine, on our proximity to Valentine’s Day – was a very straightforward affair: a choice between two starters, two mains and two desserts, no add-ons or complications, for sixty-five pounds, although it cost me less than that.
It struck me as refreshingly straightforward, with all the dishes being uber-convenient to prepare and serve, so I placed my order and thought no more about it. One of the nice things about services like Dishpatch, because of the lead times involved, is that it’s a bit like buying yourself a present, treating future you, in a way that takeaways never quite do.
Anyway, it all arrived according to plan on the Friday, and this time the delivery driver actually left it behind our recycling bin as he was meant to, rather than depositing it in front of a random house round the corner. As before it was all well packed – just the three cardboard boxes, one for each course. The cooking instructions in the box were for another restaurant entirely, but with everything available online that too was hardly a biggie.
Our starter was probably my favourite thing we ate that evening. It had been a choice between prawn cocktail and soup – neither of which involved doing anything technically complex – and we’d gone for the former. It was largely dishing up rather than cooking, with just one element, a few slabs of focaccia, needing to be finished off in the oven. Apart from that you just decanted your prawn cocktail, your lettuce and some pickled cucumbers and you were good to go.
And I really did enjoy the dish. Rather than a handful of bigger prawns you got plenty of muscular little shrimp, and the Marie Rose sauce had good sharpness and kick (I wondered if it had something like vodka in it, so I wasn’t surprised, on checking the ingredients, to find a little brandy in there). Rather than serving it in the traditional fashion, they gave you a little gem lettuce and advised you to scoop up the prawn cocktail with the leaves: I wasn’t sure whether this was a modish nod to places like Pho or just old-fashioned weirdness, but it worked reasonably well. And I loved the pickled cucumbers – sweet but not sharp, and a great contrast to everything else on the plate.
Even the focaccia heated up better than I thought it would. It had some spelt flour in it, which might have gone some way to explaining why, and although it wasn’t sodden with olive oil as great focaccia often is, it went well with the dish and mopped up the rest of the sauce nicely. The problem here was the quantity, or lack thereof, of the dish. Looking at the pictures on Dishpatch’s website all I can say is that somebody has passed off two portions of this as one, because it felt on the miserly side. I guess this is another problem with heat at home meals: in a restaurant we have a clearer idea of what things should cost, and how big a portion should be. Here, I looked at what we’d been given and had no real idea whether it constituted value, or not, as part of a sixty-five pound meal.
Our main course couldn’t have been much easier to cook. Confit duck and dauphinoise potatoes went into the oven, with some cavolo nero joining them for the last five minutes. And also, during those final five minutes, you heated some red cabbage and a red wine jus on the hob. There was a big old bag of red cabbage, and a tiny vacuum packed pouch of jus. Never mind, I thought, it’s going to be one of those beautifully silky restaurant sauces where a little goes a long way.
The end result was every kind of disappointment. That’s especially a shame because the feature attraction, the confit duck, wasn’t half bad. I would have liked the skin crispier – or even just crisp, for that matter – so I think the cooking instructions were a tad out, but it was beautifully dense and meaty and there was no layer of fat lurking under the skin (although in fairness, if there had been I still would have made short work of it). The problem was everything else.
Dauphinoise potatoes are a wonderful thing, when done right. These weren’t. What you actually got was a slab of many-layered spud, some of it on the firm side of cooked, with none of the indulgence of cream or garlic that make this dish such an indulgence. I’m honestly not convinced this had ever seen a lick of cream or a clove of garlic: it was drier than an actuary. And that jus? It turned out to be one of those sauces where a little goes a very short distance. There was literally so little of it that I’m not sure why they bothered: here’s what you could have won, it seemed to say.
All this meant that the heavy lifting, in terms of moisture, came from the red cabbage. On the hob it had smelled beautifully wintry with all those mulled flavours of red wine, cloves and cinnamon going on. But with nothing else really happening on the plate it dominated to an extent that made it hard to enjoy anything. I left some of my dauphinoise, Zoë left a lot of her red cabbage. Sixty five pounds, I thought to myself. Was the meal going to feel like sixty five pounds’ worth, unless the dessert was either covered in gold leaf or the size of a basketball court? It felt like a long shot.
“That was so dry it was like something my dad could have cooked” said Zoë. I knew this was very far from a compliment: I’d learned early on in our relationship not to take nice sausages to a family barbecue unless you were comfortable with the idea that they’d wind up only identifiable from their dental records. Not just that, but if you ate one your dental records might themselves be changed forever. Zoë’s dad used to work in a Berni Inn when he was young: it’s not a great advert for the Berni Inn that they never figured out that he was colour blind.
Dessert returned to the trend of the starters – quite nice, but not big enough. We had a black forest gateau (“Is this a date night in the Seventies?” Zoë had said when she saw the menu) and it tasted terrific, laced with kirsch and chocolate nibs, cosseted with cream and topped with hugely moreish sour cherries. But where was the rest? We ate it, and then we had the chocolate truffles which came as an extra. I think they were meant to make you think “what a lovely touch!” but all they made me think was Sixty-five pounds. Oh, and they threw in a candle. Literally. There was a candle in there, because it was a date night. The picture on the website shows two candles, just to complete the false advertising. Sad to say, Zoë was genuinely excited about what she had convinced herself was a free candle. I on the other hand was wondering how long I could hold out before inhaling some chocolate from the kitchen cupboard.
Although I still fervently believe, in principle, that restaurant kits could play an important role in life and create an interesting new space equidistant between takeaways and eating in restaurants, I’m yet to have an experience that convinces me that that promise has been fulfilled. And restaurants have had coming up to two years to get this right, so it’s not encouraging that my two experiences this year have fallen flat. It’s quite possible that if I went to Andrew Edmunds and had dinner there my meal would cost far more than sixty-five pounds, even before you added a bottle of wine. But that’s only part of the point. The other thing to do is think about what sixty-five pounds could get you elsewhere, and that’s where the wheels really start to fall off.
This meal in particular brought that home because there was no complexity to it at all. Switch the oven on, put things in, take them out and serve them up, with a little extra mucking about on the hob. What I’ve described there, in essence, is a ready meal. And if a ready meal is going to cost sixty-five pounds it really has to feel like it’s worth every penny, which this really didn’t. To put this in perspective, you could buy stuff from COOK, squirrel it away in your freezer and have a meal which wasn’t far from this standard for a fraction of the price (their beef bourguignon is pretty decent, as is their lamb dupiaza). Or if you go to the next level above, Côte At Home will sell you two confit duck legs with accompanying gratin potato for seventeen pounds. I’ve not tried Côte At Home yet, I really ought to for the blog, but I imagine even if it isn’t as nice as what I ate from Andrew Edmunds it would be close enough when you consider the gulf in pricing.
And of course, the other thing to compare meals like this week’s with is food you can eat closer to home. The following night, thoroughly deflated after my Dishpatch disappointment, I ordered a delivery from the Lyndhurst. We had chicken wings, tangy with gochujang. We had a skate wing each, almost as big as our plates, with greens and baby new potatoes and a buttery sauce Grenobloise bursting with capers. And then we each had the most beautiful, boozy tiramisu. No doling it out in meagre carefully controlled portions between two plates: we had one each. It was just blissful, it was huge and it cost far, far less than sixty-five pounds. Staying in might well be the new going out, but staying in with Dishpatch just feels like the new going without.
Andrew Edmunds at Dishpatch