Valentine’s Day is an important occasion to many couples. It’s a day of the year when you spoil each other for no other reason than to show how much you love them. It’s a day for togetherness and passion where restaurants are packed out and chefs spend weeks coming up with the perfect menu. If you’re in the UK however you will be spending the evening at the same spot you’ve spent every other in 2021… home.
So what can you possibly do to make the day special for your other half?
Here at the Bespoke Black Book we enjoy a bit of indulgence and so of course we’ve found a way to enjoy the restaurant experience in your own living room thanks to some of the best restaurant meal kits in the country. I endured the difficult task of cooking and eating them all to give you this guide to the perfect Valentine’s Day meal your partner will love.
My first recommendation is for those who miss their home comforts. I’m talking about your mum’s cooking, your nan’s roast dinner or your dad’s famous gravy. Look no further than Manchester’s own Sam’s Chop House. For over 150 years they have served the heart of Manchester with the very best of British food and drink. As a family run business I thought it fitting to order some of the dishes I used to enjoy eating with my family, surely the best kind of comfort food.
My partner had Sam’s Famous Steak & Kidney Pudding with chips and mash while I enjoyed Sam’s Deluxe Beef Stew with MCR Mustard Dumplings. We didn’t though, we halved it all so we could have a bit of each as they both looked so good (also sharing is romantic is it not?). This was the simplest meal kit option in that the dishes either went in the oven or in the microwave except the pudding which went in the steamer. No messing about and next to no washing up. Perfect!
The steak and kidney pudding was the best I’d ever eaten (I’m northern, I’ve eaten a lot of pies in my time, I know my stuff), there was so much meat inside I wondered how on earth it all fit and the quality was just sensational. The beef stew was so rich and tasty and the mustard dumplings were the perfect addition to the dish. We also sampled the lamb hotpot, I say sampled we polished that off in the same meal too as it was just amazing! We found the perfect pairing to this red meat feast with The Wine Society’s Barbera d’Asti from Italy a well-balanced red with juicy cherry and bramble flavours that was a wonderful accompaniment to a homemade meal. This was a lovely meal to share and although it isn’t the fanciest of cuisine’s it felt like a treat just to enjoy it together and not have to worry about a long day of cooking.
However if you have more of a taste for fine dining for Valentine’s I did manage to find an experience that matched the kind of special treatment you’d expect from a great restaurant.
Adam Reid at the French, launched the Menu Box By AR to be delivered nationwide last year and there’s a reason why it sells out every week. Being one of the best restaurants in Manchester I knew it would be special but it really did exceed my expectations in every way. Firstly it was delivered by Adam himself, who was more than happy to answer any questions I might have about the preparation (I actually used to be a chef so the only problem here would be who would be doing the washing up!) and we had a lovely chat about sustainably sourcing the best produce and adapting to lockdown life. It might have been better had I been dressed for the occasion but that’s a story for another time…
The box comes perfectly packaged with detailed instructions on how to successfully create the masterpiece waiting inside. But on close inspection it really was a case of just following step by step, heating this, boiling that, pop that in the oven… all very simple.
The appetiser of malt bread from Pollen Bakery with beer butter went all too perfectly with the starter of white onion and cider soup with crumbled Kirkhams cheese and chives. After one mouthful I was immediately transported to a place of euphoria. You really do forget what good food tastes like when you’ve been cooking your own for so long!
Then on to the slow roasted belly pork with hazelnut and mushroom barley stew which was just divine. The rich gravy that accompanied it was dotted with a sage oil which was just an inspired touch and so delicious. Then dessert. That beautiful dessert. My god it was good! Treacle tart with fresh clotted cream was simply delicious, it was truly the indulgence we needed.
As far as wine pairing goes, Adam teamed up with Gusbourne wines to create a package that goes perfectly with the dishes. Containing a bottle each of Brut Reserve 2016 and Pinot Noir 2018, as well as a complimentary bottle of their sweet wine, Ratafia the selection will take your meal experience to the next level and really give that restaurant feel.
Now this next one I need to mention because you only have until February 5th to order yours for Valentine’s! Wellocks at Home is giving budding chefs the chance to sharpen their culinary skills at home with its latest virtual masterclass, created in partnership with Michelin-starred chef Tim Allen.
Bringing some true culinary luxury to lockdown, when you order you can expect a stunning box of high-quality ingredients and access to an online preparation session and masterclass with the man himself. A zoom call I’d actually be happy to participate in!
Allen will share some of his finely-tuned techniques to help you develop your culinary skills and create a gourmet feast from the comfort of your kitchen. The sumptuous two person three-course menu is inspired by the North West of England, the region in which he grew up. The menu consists of a winter salad of seasonal vegetables with Yelison curd, Manjares truffle and honey, Roasted rack of Herdwick lamb gently braised neck fillet, madras curry, butternut squash, puffed seeds, Ashcroft cauliflower and lamb jus finished off with Michel Cluizel baked chocolate, peanut brittle, whipped Longley Farm buttermilk and Madagascan vanilla.
I want all of that and I want it right now! Get your kit here so that you can prepare a michelin star standard meal for the one you love. Who wants roses when you could have that and it’s the closest you’ll get to a Michelin star dining experience this Valentine’s!
Finally, if all this talk of food and flavours makes you want to get in the kitchen and create something yourself for Valentine’s then you need to start with the finest quality ingredients. Coombe Farm Organic farm organically, sustainably and ethically, combining the best of the ancient with the most cutting-edge of the modern to produce the very best food you can eat. They deliver nationwide and their selection is incredible so we tried a few things.
First some organic retired dairy beef rib eye steaks. After the dairy cows’ lives the farmers let them roam the fields then slaughter and butcher them locally. This more mature meat has more marbling than most steaks you’d get at your butchers or supermarket, with a more complex depth of flavour and a wonderfully open-grained texture. You simply can’t go wrong with a good bit of steak, paired with some green veg, peppercorn sauce and chunky chips, you’d have their heart in your hands!
With its unique flavour and hearty texture, duck makes an indulgent and rich change if you’re cooking something special so we opted for a whole organic duck which we roasted whole and enjoyed with winter vegetables. The meat was tender and tasty to eat which would make it an impressive treat on the special day.
Finally we wanted something totally different so ordered some goat meat. The farm believes that no meat should be wasted when there is already enough discarded food in today’s society, so they use the meat from nanny and Billy goats and sell everything from the liver to chops. There are countless recipes for this versatile meat but we went for a simple mild Indian goat curry which was perfect to warm up our cold aching hearts.
All of the meal kits and food deliveries here are available nationwide and are subject to availability. If you need more inspiration for how to treat your loved one on Valentine’s Day, don’t miss our ultimate Valentine’s gift guide coming soon!