This year has been a funny one for the food enthusiast, throwing out all sorts of challenges from flour shortages to the impending death of the local pub (thanks Boris). Even the most stalwart of covid deniers has had to make some changes to how they live and eat and suck up the loss of simple pleasantries like a posh dinner out once in a while. But we managed, we got creative, we started having a BBQ on a wednesday night (madness). We baked banana bread and discovered you can put booze in pretty much anything.
Summer lockdown was made tolerable by novelty value and garden visits but I don’t know anyone who has managed through November in England as well as they did in the spring. Call it mask fatigue or decreasing daylight hours, it sucks way harder this time around and one of the biggest issues in Boomboom Towers is the loss of little side trips for a coffee in someone else’s garden. Or comfortable small talk/wine fuelled political fury over dinner with the family. Or going gin blind in my bestie’s living room. A walk and a beer, in a pub with the Mr, these are the good times and life hurts without them for the lack of both company and also luxury. Because we need a treat in these times, I wrote about that myself earlier this year but still managed to forget about it this time around. Until there was Galvin at Home.
Galvin is technically the Galvins– restaurateur brothers Chris and Jeff and my old gaffer is an enthusiastic patron of theirs. As it’s been an uncommonly long time since he summoned his offspring to a big dinner out, and it isn’t going to be happening soon what with the four different households, Pops booked us in for the At Home experience from La Chapelle in central London. A thoughtful gesture without doubt, and one met with tingling taste buds but also an amount of intrigue as to exactly how you can deliver a Michelin starred dinner experience down 70 odd miles of the A12.
The short answer to this is: you can.
The slightly longer answer begins with a chilled courier delivery of four courses, all cooked and compartmentalised to be reconstructed in one’s own kitchen at the time of consumption. The menu is brief, with options that are basically vegetarian or not, plus dessert, and you can expect the big players from the La Chapelle menu: Dorset crab lasagne, a knockout piece of meat and the signature tarte Tatin.
I’ll put my hands up to a week of living in fear of this delivery being lobbed on to the drive and left in a patch of sun without need for a signature, but our parcel arrived still cool and only marginally disrupted by an APC driver who couldn’t be expected to notice the massive THIS WAY UP note on the box. Insert eye roll here.
Unboxing revealed a dozen or so little pots and packages of sauce, substance and garnish, plus a menu recap and a concise guide on how to heat and serve. It all looked simple enough and after the important task of correctly identifying which creamy substance was full of shallots and which should be going on the apple tart, I filled the fridge and set to the other prep work. You know, to Make It Special.
I’m not going to go into a detailed taste review because it was exactly as I would expect Galvin grub to be- it was bloody marvellous. In fact it was much better, given that I heated it up in my tiny kitchen in Essex. Starters required a steamer and gentle sauce warming, mains took twelve minutes of hot water and stirring up some truffle mash in a hot pan (drooool) and let me tell you boil in the bag beef has never been so rich and unctuously satisfying. Dessert- a few minutes on a baking tray, an upturned pot of caramel and some sweary moments making a messy quenelle of creme Normandy.
It would have been one of the best at home meals of this pig of a year had it been eaten off laps in front of DS9, as we usually take our dinner. But because it was a gift and a special dinner, we made special arrangements for it. I planned wine beyond what looked good for less than a tenner a bottle in Co-op. We cleaned the house and set the table, polished the glasses and naturally The Good Plates came out. The Mr even had a shave. We had a night out at our dining table and yes it was as good as a night out-out, in many ways. First off, we had an absolutely spanking dinner without having to spend all day in the kitchen or stress out over subbing ingredients or calculating oven times, so thank you La Chapelle for that. Then through the power of whatsapp we got to have something of a social dinner with wine tips and the subtle oneupmanship of who could make the best quenelles and who was cooking in their crocs. It was a get together without being together, which is the best we can do for now and the next day, despite the obvious impact of lots of wine and rich food, I felt better than I have in weeks in the emotional sense of things. Reader, I cheered TF up.
So what’s my point? I know that an extravagant night out in a restaurant is never going to be one of life’s true necessities BUT an extravagant night out in a restaurant is also absolutely one of life’s necessities, and bringing it to your own house is nothing short of soul therapy. La Chapelle do deliver the at home experience nationally and where I highly recommend it I also know that it is not in the budget friendly zone of everyone. But in a funny and arguably pretentious way, you can actually michelin up any night in with a bit of effort and imagination. What makes good food is always a point of debate, but quality restaurants are as much about menu as they are a warm welcome and a shared goal of comfort and satisfaction. Ambience, innit? And you my friend can do ambience at home, be that in a draughty semi in Essex or several floors up in a student flat whilst your housemate is working nights. If you have the funds, look into who is delivering locally because hospitality needs you. If not, think ahead a bit and plan your dinner to the best of your available budget. Have three courses or some small plates and indulge in some ritual with wine glasses and table setting, light a candle and make a playlist- what else are you going to do all day!?! Plenty of us have zoom meetings now, why not use one to to day drink whilst all ignoring a shared casserole recipe in the oven? Organise some friends to make their own sushi then ridicule the results over your communication platform of choice. If you’re on your own there’s forums and chats to join, live tweet your prep or just reach out to someone. It’s a big joke that no one cares about your facebook dinner but I promise you someone out there cares what you are doing tonight and how you feel about it all. Hell I do, tell me all about your dinner right now!!!!
The world is a sucky place today for those of us who aren’t Hancock’s personal PPE shills, and little things count. Even though we miss eachother, we don’t have to miss eachother and that might work by sending someone a slap up dinner or it might work by starting a family chat row about what sauce is best to have on chips (mayo btw).
Be kind to yourself and be kind to eachother and please, eat a good a dinner.