Restaurants that haven’t yet started to provide deliveries, hampers or trade in other ways face an uncertain future.
While fixed costs continue and debts mount, they face two problems.
Firstly, their financial position worsens as outgoings continue but income remains at zero. And second, their competitors are stealing a march by providing thoughtful, intelligent and tasty offerings.
Take Csons at Shrewsbury, for instance. The restaurant, run by four brothers, has long been among the best in Shrewsbury. Its also among the most savvy.
So as lockdown has bitten and the prospects of a return to normal trading have evaporated, they’ve put considerable thought into staying afloat. Simply counting down the days no longer washes.
Their offer is Csons At Home. It’s brilliant. Each week, they come up with a new menu featuring a starter, a main and a dessert. In our case, we booked a delivery for a Thursday, having placed an order online.
One of the Crouch brothers duly arrived late in the afternoon, long before dinner time, with a handily packed box. He was wearing blue gloves and stood on the pavement after knocking the door to alert us to deliveries. Physical distancing at its best. Our payment had been made online and a receipt provided.
Most restaurants that remain operational are providing a simple delivery service of cooked food. The only trouble with that is that food doesn’t travel all that well. So crispy onion bhajis are soft by the time they arrive, chips have turned to mush and delicious curries have slopped one way and then another.
Csons trust their customers to heat, assemble and present – meaning the results on the plate are far prettier.
So our box contained prepared ingredients for a starter, main and dessert. Strawberry fields lamb birria with lime yoghurt, chipotle and coriander was followed by Millichope pheasant and chorizo meatballs, smooth polenta, marianara sauce, Appleby’s Cheshire cheese, parsley and Lane Cottage leaves with dressing. A panna cotta with dates, brandy and candied seeds completed the dinner. Three courses at £21 plus £5 delivery. Exceptional.
The ingredients for each course were carefully labelled and instructions were provided in a small flyer included in the box. Csons have also recorded a series of videos, available at their website, in which their chef opens a box and cooks it in their kitchen. The intention is simple, people who don’t want to read the instructions or might find that challenging can cook-along to the video. It’s what Floyd did all those years ago – except the Csons brothers don’t drink on the job or offer bawdy banter to the camera.
We started with the lamb birria. It was delicious. A container of savoury, umami-rich broth was heated through before pieces of 15-hour slow cooked lamb from a Shropshire farm were placed within. Gently heated over a medium flame, they were joined by pre-cooked pinto beans, which were also cooked through. The dish was transferred to a warm bowl then drizzled with lime yoghurt, spicy chipotle and coriander. It’s the best thing I’ve eaten since lockdown.
There are Michelin-starred kitchens providing eat at home options – and very good they are too – but the Csons version beat those. Beautifully balanced and expertly seasoned, their dishes were restaurant standard food for less than you’d expect to pay in a restaurant. My partner and I sat at the table and started humming our approval. Utterly, utterly delicious. She’d taken the main, a dish featuring Shropshire pheasant, which was similarly easy to heat and construct. Three plump meatballs were placed in the oven; the pheasant being kept moist by the sweet, spicy fat from the chorizo. A small portion of polenta was heated with butter and milk to make it wonderfully creamy. A marianara sauce featured plenty of salty anchovy and sweet tomato while the chalky Appleby’s Cheshire cheese melted when placed over the top. Another local ingredient, beautifully bitter Lane Cottage leaves, were dressed and served as a side. It was filling, nourishing, plentiful and packed with great taste and complimentary textures. Another exceptional dish.
Dessert was easy to assemble. A creamy panna cotta with just the right wobble had been freed from its container by applying gentle heat to the tub. It was served with pre-cooked dates and brandy while candied seeds provided crunch. Sweet, uplifted by a hint of alcohol and served in a generous sized portion, it was fabulous.
We’d shared our dinner – making it just over a tenner each – and were blown away.
Since lockdown commenced, we’ve looked favourably on those restaurants that have been sufficiently well organised to provide take-away or delivery services. There have been one or two that are truly exceptional: Suree Coates’ Thai offering in Ironbridge is outstanding, the delivery service by Carter’s of Moseley is also impressive. But Csons has taken lockdown food to another level. The delivery service is organised and efficient, so that ingredients arrive for stay-at-home workers during the day, in plenty of time for an evening meal.
The instructions are clear, concise and well-supported by online tutorials. And the preparation that goes into the food is as good as it gets. Dishes are delightfully seasoned, flavours perfectly balanced and three-course dinners brilliantly matched.
Collections are also available, for those who are out at work during the day. The Crouch brothers appear to have thought of every last detail.
The work that has gone into Csons offering is abundantly clear. And once lockdown lifts, they’ll return with reputations enhanced, rather than simply intact.
Had my partner and I eaten their food in their restaurant, we’d have been just as happy – there was zero difference in quality between what we might have been served and what we ate at home. Given the hours people spend in their homes, it was also great fun to have a cook-along task to enjoy.
Csons are ahead of the pack.
If there’s a better lockdown dinner out there, I’ve yet to find it – though if you think something beats Csons, email us so that we can try it: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sample dinner - Three courses for £21
Vegetable pakhora, lentils, kachumber, yoghurt dressing, piccalilli, chilli, gunpowder and coriander
Chicken shawarma, peppers, couscous, Harehill greens, mint and cardamom yoghurt, harissa, dukkah.
Vegetarian option, also vegan: Hodmedods falafel instead of chicken and tahini instead of yoghurt
Lemon yum, curd, ginger biscuit, chocolate
Csons at Home
8, Milk Street, Shrewsbury
Tel: 01743 272709
Star rating: 5/5