We start this week’s review with an important public service announcement for chefs and restaurateurs.
We sympathise that you’re not presently working because of the Covid-19 lockdown. And we understand that you’ll have to remodel your businesses when you’re finally allowed to open.
Just as shops and offices have introduced screens and social distancing measures, so you’ll have to respace your tables, reduce the number of covers and quite probably reduce the number of staff that you employee.
But you will, at least, have a chance. Or, you might, if you don’t sit at home feeling sorry for yourself.
As lockdown has endured, the number of restaurants providing hampers, click-and-collect, takeaway and more has increased.
A number are truly exceptional, providing a restaurant-standard experience from the comfort of diners’ own homes. The concern is that so many chefs and restaurants still haven’t stepped up to the plate.
In an industry characterised by innovation and creativity, by chutzpah and can-do spirit, far too many cooks and owners are still sitting back, relying on furlough, hoping things will work out fine. They won’t.
Their competitors are already stealing a march.
While a vast number are enjoying the blue skies and chance to spend time with families, their rivals are generating revenue that avoids future debt and pays for gas, electricity, rent, hire purchase agreements and more.
Some are even managing to pay themselves a wage: fancy that.
The time for prevarication is over. The time for not being able to work out the logistics, or translate the restaurant experience to the home, is done. It’s now or never, do or die.
Those who don’t bother or can’t get to grips have an increasingly slim chance of making it through to the other side.
In contrast, those that do provide great cook-at-home services are enhancing their reputation, keeping their businesses afloat, providing sustenance for members of the community and lifting spirits.
So, guys, if you haven’t already started: get on with it. Time waits for no man.
People like Stuart and Fran Collins, at Docket 33, in Whitchurch, are among those on the side of the angels. They’ve taken time to reflect, created a refined dine-at-home offering and nailed it with a straight 10-10 score.
Like the equally brilliant Csons, in Shrewsbury and Ludlow, or Aktar Islam’s exceptional Pulperia, in Birmingham; Docket 33 has taken the warm-and-eat route.
They’ve taken the hard work out of meal times and provided the means for people to eat restaurant quality food at home.
So, in our four-course, meal for two parcel – a snip at £24 per head – we received a menu, prepared ingredients and clear instructions on how to warm, plate and present. Fun as well as fabulous.
Stuart and Fran Collins have been among the shining lights of the Shropshire food scene in the past couple of years.
After graduating, Stuart worked with Michael Caines MBE at Gidleigh Park, Devon. Four years later, he worked for Gordon Ramsay, at the three Michelin-starred Restaurant in London, and then to New York, working at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Maze.
After five years, Stuart returned to the UK, and to Michael Caines, as Executive Chef at the Abode Hotel, Chester.
In late 2011 a role in Doha, Qatar, tempted Stuart to travel again and he worked across four varying hospitality projects in the Qatar Foundation. 2017 saw Stuart return to the UK and opened Docket 33.
Fran has a similarly starry CV, having worked with great names such as chef Michael Caines, chef Guy Savoy, and at the Four Seasons Hotel, Doha.
In other times, their restaurant is a delight, providing the sort of neighbourhood-bistro vibe that Shaun Hill once offered at his much-loved Merchant House, in Ludlow.
The eat-at-home experience is a wonder. It is built on the best of seasonal produce, with pesto made from Bennett and Dunn rapeseed oil, new season asparagus from Evesham, fresh herbs and Cornish hake from skipper Simon of the Karen of Ladram.
The first course was Freedom Four beer bread, with wild garlic pesto. Except greedy chops hadn’t read the recipe and instead served it with a quenelle of butter.
It was delicious, despite the schoolboy error. And the wild garlic pesto, incidentally, was sensational. With a gentle heat and abundance of fragrance, it was the taste of wild woodlands. Delish.
Next up was local asparagus with goat’s cheese custard, sunflower seeds and nasturtium.
An aluminium tray containing the pre-cooked asparagus was placed in the oven and warmed through for four minutes.
The spears were dressed with a wonderfully sharp vinaigrette while the seed and chive mix was scattered on top.
Small dots of goat’s cheese custard completed the dish, providing a smooth, creamy contrast with the acidulated vinaigrette and the earthy, fresh asparagus.
It looked as pretty as a picture, though my partner took full credit for that.
The main was a herb-brined Cornish hake dish with Jersey Royal potatoes, British salami, samphire and a Cheshire saffron sauce.
We followed the instructions to the letter; removing the hake from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking before finishing off the other ingredients.
The beautiful, salty hake was delicate and tender, chunks falling away under the fork. The samphire and salami provided a hit of umami and luxury while the samphire had the taste of the sea.
An elderlower and blueberry dessert with marigold and candied lemon finished our gourmet dine-at-home experience.
A sponge was light and moist, a creamy topping brilliantly indulgent while the candied lemon added a hit of sharp-sweet flavour. I’m still a bit discombobulated by the bill: £24 each. Bargain.
The food travelled well in transit, there were no slips or spills, and the ingredients were easy to follow. The weeks and months ahead will make or break a number of businesses. Docket 33 will be one of those that survives and prospers.
It’s offering food that’s as good as anywhere in the county. Simple advice: call them up, check the menu, place your order now.
£55 per head for tasting menu
Freedom four and onion seed beer bread, Appleby’s whey butter
Red beetroot, goat’s cheese, Shropshire honey, pine nuts
Hand cut pappardelle, Shropshire lamb shoulder, bread & sunflower seed pesto
Hake fillet, red pepper and fennel, saffron sauce
Rose veal fillet, celeriac, wild garlic veal sauce
Local cheese, condiments, biscuits and crackers (supp £7)
Yoghurt, pistachio praline, rhubarb, rose
Milk chocolate cremaux, aerated white chocolate, Jerusalem artichoke
Dockett No 33
33, High Street,