What do you get from the independent marketplace, 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 – Eat Well MCR
The Eat Well MCR model is a bit different to other boxes we’ve reviewed. It functions as a marketplace for local producers with any profits ploughed back into helping support the community. As long as you have the funds it’s a real win-win-win. I use the triple because you are helping a local business stay afloat during a very difficult time, contributing to feeding vulnerable people and getting yourself a top scran.
The marketplace rotates regularly so different local businesses get their time in the sun. Alumni include obvious candidates for meal kits, such as Where The Light Gets In, Elite Bistros and more, but you can also get organic veg boxes, steaks from the Manchester Meat Company, Burmese chilli, salted butter, and a gamut of booze from an IPA to a pre-mixed dry martini. It's like discovering fascinating things in your friend's much more interesting pantry. If only you could go round to their house.
There's lots more about the vendors and Eat Well MCR's social aims in our interview with founder Mary Ellen McTague.
What do you get and how much does it cost?
To get a really good sampling of the marketplace range I decided that instead of just one meal kit, my journalistic integrity demanded I do a deep dive and spend a whole day only eating food from Eat Well.
It was pretty tough.
I thought the best thing would be to eat like I might do on a normal day, but with all the hard work done for me. Ok maybe I don't normally boil my own bagels for breakfast (which is probably for the best) but a cheeky banger for lunch and a Thai noodle dish for dinner seemed like something I could make for myself, so I was intrigued to see how Eat Well MCR would elevate the experience for me.
The below are enough for two, apart from the breakfast hamper which we had for two large breakfasts.
The breakfast hamper (£55) contains six traditional bagels, which you bake at home, 180g Manchester Smoke House oak-smoked Scottish salmon, Chevington cream cheese, six eggs, English apple juice, milk Acorn Dairy and a bottle of fresh, light-bodied Prosecco Col Fondo.
The Grandad's classic DIY box (£14) contains two pork sausages, brioche rolls, crispy onions, ketchup, mustard, red onion and a bag of sweets.
The Tampopo meal kit (£10) contains fresh noodles, ginger, garlic, Thai curry noodles sauce and garnishes of lime, coriander, spring onion, onion flakes and red onion.
What do you have to do and how difficult is it?
To draw an analogy with hubristic property saga Grand Designs, when it comes to cooking I’m the eccentric, bobble-hatted self-builder who decides to create a castle complete with turrets out of mud and horsehair entirely on the basis of YouTube videos and am surprised when it takes three to four years longer than expected. My husband is more along the lines of the German builders who show up to install huge plate glass windows according to factory specs drawn up in Dusseldorf months ago and get it done in approximately six hours with time for a light lunch. You can guess who is more suited to the whole meal-kit routine. We've tried a few meal kits in lockdown and we usually divide the little labour there is according to our various talents - organising, cooking, following instructions, arranging leaves and scattering various crispy bits (him), lighting candles to make it feel a bit more like a restaurant (me).
So it was unusual for me to be in charge of Eat Well MCR day. The breakfast hamper was pretty straightforward, although I did veer dangerously close to messing up the bagels. Essentially you freeze the raw bagel until needed, boil them and then bake them. Unfortunately, the bagels had got very squashed together during the freezing process and I couldn't separate them so they had to go in the pan of boiling water in a big clump. Eventually, they thawed enough to be separated but then some were completely soft while others were rock hard. I lobbed them in the oven anyway and to my surprise, they turned out beautifully. I guess that's one point to the eccentric bobble-hat method.
Still, after the bagels nightmare, I left the Grandad's sausage kit to my more precise half and he reported that it was very easy - just fry the sausages and assemble. I was back in charge for the noodles which probably would have gone more smoothly if I'd looked at the instructions well in advance.
In my defence, the recipe card was actually missing from the box but it is easy enough to look up on the Eat Well website. Still, I might have noticed it instructs you to add in your own protein or vegetables sooner than three minutes before you are about to start cooking. Luckily I had some chicken and peppers in the fridge. I probably should have expected this at £10 for two but in my bobble-hatted way had not thought about this price discrepancy.
Cooking started smoothly enough. Wait though, the online recipe is telling me to add chicken. Does it mean the protein? But I've already added my protein, as instructed, and now it's telling me to add coriander - but there isn't any in the box. Luckily your average bobble hat is pretty used to these sorts of micro disasters on a daily basis and it didn't throw me off my stride too much. In fact, I think I actually made the best noodle dish I've made for ages, but I do think these instructions need to be clarified.
Is it any cop?
Essentially, the Eat Well offer bridges the gap between pure online shopping and ordering a meal kit. Some elements are about recreating the restaurant meals you know and miss, while others are more about bringing together the high-quality supplies you might not be able to get your hands on any other way.
I really loved the breakfast, each element was carefully selected and my only complaint was that, for the price, a bag of coffee beans would not have gone amiss. I was very pleasantly surprised by the Tampopo kit and while I enjoyed the Grandads meal kit as a nice sausage in a bun, it was exactly what I expected and it didn't feel like an upgrade on buying sausages and bread from my local stores.
Usually, a large part of the joy of indulging in special versions of everyday meals is sourcing the ingredients that will make it great: fresh eggs, bread from your favourite bakery, locally grown vegetables – and while you can’t exactly recreate this, Eat Well has done a good job of curating the little extras that you just wouldn’t be able to get hold of if you were purely relying on the big online delivery and your local neighbourhood shops (unless of course, you are very lucky).
However, the fact that it's not quite regular shopping and not quite a meal kit means some people (i.e. me) might be a little underprepared. You might want to check through the box first, read the instructions and see if you have everything you need. This is what a German window installer would do.
The quality of the products is uniformly high. To quibble with the cost would be a bit mean-spirited considering the charitable and social aspects of the package, but it is not going to be affordable to everybody. I’m definitely going to order something from there again but with the intention of trying out indies I just can’t get to otherwise. And some more of those bagels because they haven't beaten me yet.
The range is available from Eat Well MCR. Order on Monday for delivery or click and collect the following Friday/Saturday. Eat Well MCR delivers to postcodes M1 to M9, M11 to M23, M25, M27, M28, M30, M32 to M35, M40, M41, M43, M45, M50, SK1 to SK5 and SK8
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