“Some artisan butters are just plain distraction from butter’s real magnificence..”

A review of Banquist delivering all elements of ‘Michelin star meals’

This whole stuck at home business means that I haven’t so much saved money exactly, as managed to stick to the budget we were always supposed to stick to. Just as I thought I could be on to something, and actually afford some new clothes,  Banquist turned up in my instagram feed, offering a ‘Michelin meal experience’ by asking a top rated chef, in this case Josh Barnes, to pull together a menu, and deliver the ingredients (including wine and cheese courses) at an agreed time. They’re pitched as an upgrade to the usual meal kit options you might have heard of, as the entire meal to dessert and petit four is offered, along with the matching wines,

Things started to look worrying, when on booking I was asked how I’d rate my own cooking ability and I recklessly awarded myself an eight out of ten. Hey – no one was looking!  Then I wondered if I would fail miserably to bring together such an impressive sounding meal. However, this turned out to be nothing to fret about as the more complicated  sauce and oils came prepared in wonderous sheets of plastic that reminded me of how I always thought chemistry classes ought to be.

Here is the main course of seared Icelandic cod, parmentier potato’s and samphire, lemon purée and oil of wild leeks. At this point, particularly the parmentier potato point, I should admit that this is partially a review of my husband’s cooking – There’s no way I would have prepared such neat and small cubes of potato. In fact when I read the recipe it briefly crossed my mind that I could save a lot of faff by just baking the potato. Briefly, right? I gave myself an eight above. I meant it.

He hummed as he cooked. I’ve been using cooking as a chance to get up from my WFH desk, so he has been deprived of cooking lately. Please note: Banquist makes you hum.

So I even had a chef, just no waiter. 

The sauces combined well: just as we were thinking that the cod needed lemon, the lemon sauce came through. But the cleverest part of the meal turned out to be the matching wine (Torres SAN Valentin Parellada, 2018). I’m often disappointed by supposed wine matches, but this basque wine really did complement the meal all the way through the cheese course, and the dessert. 

Sorry about state of garden. Husband got furloughed, and hence house had to be rebuilt from the bottom up.

What a normal takeaway or cook at home pack misses is the little details, the extras that breeze by and add up on the bill without you noticing. The difference here was that these all came included (except for that waiter… I did double check the paper shreds) and they were worth every penny, including a mega red, swirled seaweed butter. Some artisan butters are just plain distraction from butter’s really magnificence, but this left us searching the house for bread on which to spread it, or oatcakes, or frankly, cardboard would have done it. 

What you do have to do, is take a moment for the ceremony, lay the table properly, make sure everything is delivered in order. These are the details that are easy to miss but could ruin the experience. 

However we do need to talk about cheesecake. I have to indulge a cheesecake rant every now and then, cheesecake can be stella or it can be a bland sugary disaster. I blame banquist for this particular rant. I had no choice. I didn’t know they were going to send me cheesecake. If I had, I might not have ordered the cheese platter as an extra. The good news is that the cheesecake lived up to my epic and oft cited cheesecake standards, the suspiciously sweet looking strawberry compote was en-depthed (yes – that’s a thing) with elderflower, locally grown elderflower according to the notes (get them,) and arrived in jam pots. Good thing that my family’s gift-giving habits had resorted to, ‘I don’t think they have long handled teaspoons yet’ levels. But, oh… I am so sorry to say it, the base was a little too sweet. I think it would have worked perfectly if the dessert had been a little more cheesecake shaped, but being at the bottom of a jam jar, the sweetness was not so evenly spread through the rest of the dessert, and proved a disconcerting end.

Fortunately this was redeemed by three great cheeses, more opportunity to dig into that seaweed butter, and homemade truffles. Here’s the thing, the bill was agreed before we sat down, but we ended up with free jam bars and free seaweed butter.

Still no waiter, though.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

“An unusually good coffee machine but yards away..” a review of camping in the postage stamp garden SE3

It’s been kind of warm lately, no? Kind of wake up in the middle of the night wondering how you will make it through August warm. And as flooding sunshine drowned out the bedroom I thought, this would have been better if I’d been camping. 

Now my garden is what is generally (outside of delivery circles) known as a Postage Stamp. I have heard many gardens termed postage stamps before, and I would like to make it clear that they are not postage stamps, they are more small envelopes. For true postage-stampness come visit me in Blackheath. (For everyone who wants to jump up and down in disgust at opportunity to yell at a lack of social distancing, I mean ‘virtually visit me’… actually tbh it was just a turn of phrase. Please don’t visit me. You could be anyone.)
Let me define my terms. Postage Stamp: a garden smaller that two double beds. Now I know they come smaller than that, but frankly that would ruin my story so don’t bring it up right now. Hence putting up a tent is out of the question. And anyway, that’s something you’d just do to keep the kids out of the house, right?
Weeeeell, I mean, I really miss camping. So we forwent the actual tent and just set up a bed. There was very light drizzle predicted, it was definitely going to be cooler than the night before, but I just wanted to go camping.

So I fell asleep to the sight of Venus framed by a mop and a half built shed.

I revelled in the existence of the unusually good coffee machine but yards away, plus the clean hot showers and wondered why I’ve ever paid for a campsite. The only downside was the lack of camp fire. That would have basically required burning down the shed. Or the house

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

The Greenwich COVID testing site. An event to leave the house for!

After two days of convincing myself that my temperature was due to heat stroke, the sore throat to hayfever, the cough to asthma and the seeming inability to stand up and make a cup of tea was due to an early morning bike ride (or even burn out) it eventually occurred to me that maybe I should just check that with NHS 111. Mad as that sounds in retrospect, my social distancing up to now has been so paranoid, it did not seem possible that I could have caught anything from anyone, and I’m still putting the whole thing down to a vicious mozzie bite reaction. 

And hence, I have the opportunity to review for you… the Greenwich COVID testing site. An event to leave the house for! Every sore throat that feels like broken glass has a silver lining. This has been only outside visit I have had in twelve weeks other than my daily exercise and unless this test proves negative, I’m not allowed to do that anymore.

Appointments were aplenty, despite warnings to the contrary, which I assume reflects the low London infection rate that we keep seeing reported at the moment. Following registration, the NHS offer daily text updates of what to do and expect each day, which were unexpectedly useful, and help keep track of where you are in your isolation rules. 

I have not provided photos as it feels like somewhere I should not be photographing, like airport security, or the inside of a civil service building. No idea why. I must be missing the airport queues or something. We drove past all the summer Londoners revelling in the brief reports that there had been no London cases reported in the past 24 hours, in a way you could imagine making a shocking news headline, although when you stopped to think of it, was anyone actually not social distancing? The only really shocking thing was how many people were enjoying a Costa. Don’t they read my blog??? I was wearing a dust mask and sitting in the back of the car, because my husband has asthma. I felt like my UFO had just crash-landed on this bizarre planet.

Given how long the team at Greenwich must have had for training; and how they likely have to deal with many differing levels of ability to follow the instructions on a four page leaflet – it has to be said that they were both professional and lovely. So professional and lovely that it was possible to see this despite the surreal and quite stressful experience of trying to do an uncomfortable test whilst trying not to pass it on to my husband. There was much climbing over seats which does make you wonder if you are being a bit of a hypochondriac, at my age, can I have really caught anything worth this kerfuffle? If you go, you will need access to a mirror. My only future advice would be that they try to continue this loveliness without cracking jokes, because most of us are there with a cough, and jokes lead to coughing fits, and you’re not allowed to open the window.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Emanating Kombucha cordial rays – more tales from Lockdown SE3

My task this week is to use up all the odd things in the house. It seems that Holland and Barratt is responsible for most of the ‘odd things’ I discover that aren’t actually pickled. Mostly down to those ‘two for one’ traps they’re always touting, and then the penny sales. Of course I do know that it isn’t sensible to buy two of an experimental item that probably isn’t good for me really. But if the extra item only costs a penny, surely I being ripped off if I don’t spend that extra penny (in the non-figurative sense).

All this means that while the world races towards a COVID vaccine/cure/test, I will be performing my own internal experiment. When I have ‘worked down’ this supply of off-beat health foods, will I be superwoman an anti-Covid glowing lamp emanating my kombucha cordial (unused due to high dosages of sugar) and matcha powder (unused because it makes me a tad jittery) rays to stop the pandemic in its tracks? Or will I be so disgusted by my own attempts to make homemade chocolate with date syrup that I will sink into a deep depression and never flaunt my healthy green rays in the future non-lockdown world.

Kombucha modelling on my kitchen table. Look at those glints

I‘ll let you know. Assuming that depression isn’t too bad.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

“ I don’t often buy carrot cake…” a review of Severn Droog Castle Cakes, SE18

A vast array of waiting cakes at Severn Drood Castle

Severndroog is something of a hidden gem, hosting cultural Shakespeare or opera in better times – some of which has moved online, and Is next to Oxleas Woods which has been one of our regular exercise routes. For weeks now we’ve been marching up to the gates and sighing about the absence of cake, even though most weekends we’d decided to skip the calories, and then we’d march on quick before anyone could confuse our wistfulness of being a surreptious sunbathe. (Not that wistfulness was in the list of essential activity any more than sunbathing).

I don’t often buy carrot cake. I usually look at it on the counter and frown, and say “I’ll sample that sometime”. But my husband chose the apple and blackberry cake, and I’m often disappointed by Victoria Sponge. So this was an exception.

We arrived ten minutes before opening to find an informal queue. Many people sitting on logs, or pretending to photo the turrets, but looking just a little bit edgy if you got closer to the gate than they did. In the end I broke the ice, and asked if they were about to join the queue lines. It turned out that every ‘casual looking’ passer by was eyeing up the queue lines. We were so English. We filed ourselves politely into a line according to arrival time as far as we worked out. This was my first experience of queue markers as I have studiously been avoiding shops since the whole isolation world began. I would review the queue system for you, but I am the least experienced in the skill now.

Sadly I made the mistake, despite my recent COVID negative test, of forgetting that I don’t feel hugely comfortable sharing cake with my husband right now in case I passed on whatever it was that I did have – regardless of my very paranoid approach to distancing. Otherwise I would have had the apple cake too. However my spicy, properly cream cheese icing (none of this supermarket so-called cream cheese icing none sense) was delicious… and rather filling despite being initially a little disappointed at the slice sizes.

All of the queues were to be found on the benches that overlooked the rose gardens, in our bizarre paranoid isolated groups, partially acknowledging the irony of the situation, and causing much mirth in passers-by. But I suspect they headed straight to the castle as they passed…