What do you get, how much is it and how easy to prepare?
One of the most popular features on Confidentials has always been our honest, unannounced and impartial restaurant reviews. Our readers come to us for the lowdown, confident that we know our stuff and will tell it straight. With restaurant dining sadly not an option right now, we've not been able to write restaurant reviews. But it’s what we do.
Instead, we’re giving you the scoop on some of the many delivery options that have sprung up. We’ll buy it, eat it - cook it if we have to - and let you know how it was. We’re not going to be scoring these ‘reviews’ - it doesn’t seem right at the moment - but we’ll let you know what you can expect and where's worth spending your money.
What - Lu Ban Kitchen, Heat at Home
Lu Ban is a front runner in the realms of Asian dining in Liverpool. Its authentic Chinese cuisine is coveted across the city and beyond, served up in normal times in a glam restaurant setting or exclusive private dining options like the Tianjin Banquet Room. There's also a Chef’s Table where exec chef Dave Critchley - recently honoured as the first-ever international master chef apprentice in Chinese culinary arts - and his team get to really show you what they're made of.
I’m currently wearing pyjamas 90% of the time. I wasn’t about to go traipsing around the shops on a quest for beef fillet tail and oyster sauce.
Lu Ban is all about that multi-sensory experience. Along with the current global health and economic crisis, my lack of opportunity to get a table here is a lesser (but still calamitous) example of the damage COVID has caused. Fortunately, its fine-dining Chinese (Tianjin, specifically) fare is now available from the comfort of your abode and I just had to get my fix - but how did it measure up to the real McCoy?
What do you get and how much does it cost?
Navigating the new, dedicated Lu Ban Kitchen website had my head in the shed.
There’s a baffling choice between Cooks Boxes, Heat at Home, Banquet Boxes, Kitchen Cocktails or a Lu Ban Kitchen Party. I decided that steering clear of the Cooks Boxes was a good shout because, for £10 plus delivery, you get a recipe card and ‘sachet ingredients’ (standard kitchen staples). The provision of more obscure ingredients like dried wild mushrooms and beef fillet tail are your responsibility. I’m currently wearing pyjamas 90% of the time. I wasn’t about to go traipsing around the shops on a quest for beef fillet tail and oyster sauce.
So, Heat at Home it was. Our £85 Valentine’s Banquet for two featured siu mai pork dumplings, cherrywood roast duck with pancakes, Jiang slow-braised beef with rice, and a bottle of Lu Ban Drappier Champagne.
The Valentine’s Banquet is only available for delivery until February 11th but there is an entire page dedicated to banquets, including a Champagne birthday banquet (£85 for 2), gluten-free banquet (£65 for 2) and a vegan banquet (£45 for 2). If banquets aren’t your cup of Lapsang Souchong, or you’re looking to spend a little less, individual dishes for two start at around £10 a pop.
What do you have to do and how difficult is it?
It might have been a Valentine’s Banquet but let it be known that you and your lover will be left feeling more like a pair of (very satisfied) beached wales than in the mood for a bonk. We had to use every single pan we own and in the 45 minutes it took to get from packet to plate, our kitchen was hot, steamy and full of flailing limbs - but not in a romantic sense. We had duck legs reheating, siu mai steaming (for double the amount of time recommended on the recipe card, as it happens), rice boiling to perfection and Jiang beef coming to a bubbling boil. Panic in the kitchen. Wait, is that a song by The Smiths?
Whilst that was all going down, we were plating up pancakes, chopping fresh spring onions, decanting pouches of dipping sauce into separate bowls and lashing the half a cucumber that came with in the bin because that’s the only worthy place for a cucumber. It isn’t difficult but there is a bit of faff involved. This is no Jamie Oliver 15-minute meal or Joe Wicks’ one-pan wonder but we enjoyed the high-energy process. The washing up after, not so much.
Is it any cop?
Call me greedy (I absolutely deserve it), but I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a dessert on the agenda - particularly for a Valentine’s Banquet. What’s a Valentine’s affair without chocolate? I had to pop to the Sainsbury’s Local down the road to grab us a box of Magnums.
That teeny-tiny quibble aside - if you’re willing to put in a shift, then Lu Ban Heat at Home is a right goer. As Chinese food goes, this is the best quality meat we’ve eaten in a long time - even after being nuked back at the ranks. The roast duck collapsed off the bone and we could cut the braised feather blade of beef with a serving spoon. There’s enough food to feed at least three people (a Valentine’s ménage à trois maybe?) - and a bottle of the good stuff to wash it all down.
I was pleased to see wool insulation and eco-friendly cardboard boxes. All of the components for each dish were packed into separate boxes, complete with detailed recipe cards, and sardined between layers of chemical-free fresh water ice packs. Everything arrived intact but it does come frozen so you’ll need to factor that into your plans.
If we’re going to have to be in a long-distance romance with Lu Ban for the time being, this is the perfect way to scratch an itch whilst we wait to be reunited.
Lu Ban, Cains Brewery Village, Stanhope Street, L8 5XJ
Follow Stephanie Whalley on Twitter