Eating at home is rapidly becoming big business. As we hunker down for the winter, the phenomena that is the delivered, dine-in box is attracting big bucks to the table.
And little wonder. Hospitality is the UK’s third largest sector and gradually it is being destroyed by Covid-19 and regulations designed to stop its spread.
Just as Amazon and eBay forever changed our high streets, so Covid-19 will forever change our pubs and restaurants. Those at the lower end of the market have already had to contend with such delivery services as Uber Eats.
Now restaurants at the higher end, previously immune to our switch to a digital economy, are facing greater challenges.
There was a time when guests wanting to eat high-end food could only do so by visiting an expensive restaurant or procuring pricey ingredients from an artisan.
Not anymore. The internet and Covid-19 are bringing about the democratisation of restaurants as great food is on offer to more and more people at a price they can afford, with the luxury of home delivery.
While these are chastening times to be a restaurateur, the choice for people wanting to eat at home has never been greater.
Founded by Alessandro Savelli, Pasta Evangelists is one of the best organised at-home food providers in the UK. It’s also one of the most serious. The brand, backed by Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith, in the recent past secured a £3.5 million minority investment as it looks to expand.
That cash is helping the business to expand across all channels, from retail to home delivery and beyond. The brand has provide in-store concessions to Harrods and has worked with M&S. There is also a partnership with Ocado, while its cooked offerings are available via Deliveroo and Amazon. Other retail partners are circling and the brand is building rapidly.
It will inevitably succeed. Pasta Evangelists offer restaurant-quality fresh pasta with Italian-style sauces, garnishes and recipe cards. They are delivered straight to the door in colour-coded packs – it is, simply, the best four-minute meal on the market. Fresh, authentic and with bags of flavour and brilliant texture, there’s nothing even close.
It’s impossibly well connected – in addition to Prue Leith, Sunday Times food critic Giles Coren and MasterChef critic William Sitwell have also played a part. The company worked with Polpo, Russell Norman’s brilliant Venetian-inspired London restaurant, too. In short, nobody has friends in higher places, nor brings together the knowledge and expertise of so many redoubtable experts.
Customers can sign up for a variety of options, from gourmet pasta meals to vegetarian subscriptions. Weekly, fortnightly or monthly subscriptions are available and boxes are sufficiently well-packaged to slide through a letterbox.
It works very simply. Customers log on to the Pasta Evangelists website, choose from 10 recipes and choose either a one-off delivery or regular subscription. They receive a next-day delivery, irrespective of their location in the UK, thereafter following simple instructions to serve exceptional dinners. Portion sizes are sensible, neither too big nor too small, and prices perfectly reasonable for restaurant-standard food.
There’s one other element that’s important to eat-at-home boxes, of course, and it’s this: service. While waiters and waitresses can’t come to the table – the costs of that, I imagine, would be colossal, though the experience might be fun – there is a need for transparency, accountability and the willingness to respond in good time. Companies have an obligation to let people know when their food will arrive and to make the process as stress-free as possible.
Though the format is very different, these rules apply: If they are taking trade away from restaurants, and they are, then the service should be on a par with them, albeit it via email.
In that regard, Pasta Evangelists were pretty good. Data was quickly shared, instructions as to delivery were clear, it took a day or two to get a proper receipt but that was quickly addressed. There were no real issues.
Our box contained a variety of portions for one, most of them a snip at the £8 mark. Stickers on the outside of packaging let us know which sauce went with which pasta – Etna with Etna, and so on – making the process relatively straightforward.
It wasn’t entirely foolproof and a few stickers were missing, though matching pictures on the Pasta Evangelists website to the packets of food saw us through – while we also enjoyed making our own choices and changing some of the pairings.
The food itself was gorgeous. Beautiful, high quality pasta was served in a variety of shapes and sizes, holding sauce, where it needed to. A tagliatelle al limone with lemon pangrattato was a beautiful light, lemony vegetarian dish, while conchiglioni with beef shin and Barolo wine ragu was the polar opposite; a muscular, uncompromising alpha dish that was full of flavour and intent.
Tiny malloreddus with sausage ragu, from Sardinia, was savoury and intense, the pasta and sauce comingling into one, while a crab and chilli tortelloni with sage butter sauce and lemon pangrattato was exceptional. The lemon croutons provided crunch, the chilli and crab was delicate, the sage enhanced the flavour and provided a true taste of Italy.
There were other stand-outs, most notably a gnocchi with lamb ragu, while a Cobble Lane charcuterie platter for two comprised three cured meats, the best being an unctuous bresaola.
The food was sufficient to last for several days and so each dinner time became a treat; the equivalent of eating out without having to start the car or listen to jarring piped music in the background.
Pasta Evangelists has captured the zeitgeist. With food this good, this convenient and this economically priced, our restaurants will never be the same.