Dinner in a box is coming to an end. On Monday, we were once more able to feast in pub beer gardens. A rug for your knees and a gas burner to go with your burger, sir? I should coco. Or is that cocoa, given the weather?
They have been magnificent, of course. Providing restaurateurs with a vital financial lifeline, providing diners with entertainment and decent food from the comfort of their own homes.
Sure, it’s not been an entirely smooth ride for the deliverymen and women who’ve trawled boxes of freeze-pacs around the UK in their Transit vans, but the eat-at-home phenomena that swept through 2020 and 2021 has given hospitality an essential shot in the arm.
There are numerous businesses that would have run out of cash and collapsed were it not for them.
In the coming weeks we’ll turn our attentions to local restaurants offering eat-out-in-the-garden services; that’s if we can find a coat thick enough and warm enough to guard against the onset of hypothermia.
For now, though, the menu to which we all have access is a mixture of al fresco food, takeaway and at-home eating delivered to the door.
Which brings us nicely to this week’s food: Corazon.
A few weeks ago, we test drove a box of tacos. They were magnificent. Yet, remarkably, they were also vegan. And something felt peculiar about eating a food famed for its use of decent quality meat when all we were eating was soya.
Corazon, by contrast, gives an authentic Mexican experience.
The restaurant is based in Soho, a ‘hidden gem’ tucked just behind Oxford Street. It offers an inventive and flavourful Mexican-inspired menu available at lunch, dinner and weekend brunch – all served in a casual environment inspired by vintage Mexico and California.
From couple Laura Sheffield and Chef Paul Daniel, Corazon has at its core, Mexican cuisine’s ability to make us happy – a spirit of feeling good about both what’s on our plate, in our glass and beyond.
Corazon’s vibrant botanas (snacks), tostadas, signature tacos, and larger platos fuertes (big plates) are prepared entirely on the premises, utilising handmade salsas, spice blends and moles, and slow, flavourful cooking processes.
This is hearty, honest cooking where flavour and fun take priority.
The box can’t go that far, of course, though it does come pretty close to delivering food described by numerous reviewers as being simply the best Mexican food in London – and, by extension, in the UK.
The Corazon experience is delivered in a £35 box called Corazon Carne Asada Tacos. It features mouth-watering pieces of grilled chipotle marinated beef hanger steak wrapped in taquera corn tortillas and topped with salsa ranchera, citrus mojo and pickled onions – served with drunken black beans.
Except, of course, you get to do all of the cooking.
Their at-home service is run by the enterprising Restaurant Kits, an online platform that has aggregated some of the best at-home kits in the UK.
From venison burgers to bao buns (more of which in coming weeks), from butter chicken curry to Gordon Ramsay’s beef Wellington, from Anglo Thai to chef Calum Franklin’s chicken and mushroom pie, it offers some of the finest options in UK box dinners.
The Corazon box was a delight. Ingredients were clearly labelled, easy to cook and assemble and packed with flavour. It was also decent value: at £35, there was ample food for four – or two across two days.
Three tacos per person, per sitting, generously filled with steak and as much veg, salsa and steak as you can eat would satisfy even the hungriest of hearts.
Cooking new food is part of the fun with eat-at-home boxes and the instructions from Corazon were as clear as a Dave Cameron request to a Government minister.
The steak was shown a hot pan and cooked hard and fast for a few minutes before being flipped over so that it developed a beautifully caramelised crust, slightly scorched.
It was left to rest while the other elements were rapidly assembled.
The corn tortillas protested against the hot griddle as they puffed up slightly while the drunken black beans were given a little heat from a moderate pan. The remainder was a case of open, chop and plate.
Tacos are immense fun. Refreshing, playful and offering a selection of vibrant flavours, they are perfect for the onset of spring and provide a healthier take on the ubiquitous dirty burger.
The Corazon selection were magnificent.
The drunken black beans provided plenty of ballast while our rare steaks, perfectly rested, were big on flavour and had melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The fresh avocado was scored in its own skin before being scooped out while the baby gem was deveined and shredded before being added.
The Salsa ranchera was as punchy as a Dillian Whyte uppercut, the pickled onions had perfect balance and added a sharp acid hit while the coriander and chilli provided heat and fabulous fragrance.
Together, they formed a carnival of colours, a riot of flavours.
The chilli and beef were a match made in heaven, the onions cut through, the Salsa added more heat while the avocado balanced the tacos with creamy goodness. The lettuce offered good texture and bite and we quickly dispatched the three each that we’d made.
We’re moving into a new era where we’re able to choose between the shivering cold al fresco areas of our local pubs and restaurants, the takeaway counters of local food outlets or the continued excellence of the nation’s best at-home delivery services.
Lockdown has hit the hospitality industry hard but while some have retreated others have advanced and those like Corazon are providing new customers with a welcome taste of their finest.
In the months ahead, we can expect a slowing down of at-home eating and an increase in going out – particularly locally.
For now, we can be thankful that during lockdown and while the weather is cold, there are a range of options from which to choose.