What do you get, how much is it and how easy to prepare?
Restaurant dining is sadly not an option right now. So when many of our favourite chefs and restaurants - who had never previously offered delivery - began to do so, with some getting really creative in the face of lockdown, we were intrigued.
One of the most popular features on Manchester Confidential 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. Without restaurants, we've not been able to write restaurant reviews. But it’s what we do.
So we’re launching a new series, 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 - but we’ll let you know what you can expect and where's worth spending your money.
What? The Walled Gardens veggie chef’s hamper
Award-winning vegetarian chef Eddie Shepherd has been running innovative veggie supper clubs from his home in Whalley Range for around five years. His project, The Walled Gardens underground restaurant, has been heaped with praise including recently being named one of the best restaurants in the UK by The Observer Food Monthly.
It’s easy to be overly sentimental at the moment, but a just-warm loaf of freshly baked bread is one of those examples of food as comfort, as community, as love
Although his communal dining table only caters for eight guests per evening, he too has had to temporarily close his doors during the COVID-19 lockdown. To carry on cooking and serving the community, Eddie launched a weekly chef’s hamper for delivery within the local area or collection from his house. I’d been meaning to go to one of his supper clubs for ages so this was the next best thing.
What do you get and how much does it cost?
A hamper for two people is £35 plus £4 for delivery within three miles of Whalley Range. I also added some intriguing caramelised white chocolate with Sichuan pepper for £5. The hamper contents may vary slightly from week to week but you get a big loaf of homemade walnut and treacle sourdough, a starter or savoury snack (ours was a smoked potato and truffle salad), a large main course vegetarian stew (or vegan if you prefer) and a couple of sides; we got a leaf salad with dandelion and Manchester honey dressing and a substantial pot of smoked hummus. You also get dessert, which was two pots of dark chocolate parfait with honeycomb.
What do you have to do and how difficult is it?
There’s very little to do, just decanting some pots onto plates and warming the stew which comes in a sort of large vacuum-pack bag. I snipped off the top and tipped it into a pan to gently warm through but afterwards it dawned on me that maybe the idea was to ‘boil in the bag.’ There are no cooking instructions provided so who knows? It worked fine and took only minutes.
It was something of a challenge not to trough down the entire loaf of bread in one go before anything else got a look in. It’s outrageously good and arrived ever so slightly warm. It’s easy to be overly sentimental at the moment, but a just-warm loaf of freshly baked bread is one of those examples of food as comfort, as community, as love - and I honestly felt my bottom lip wobble a bit with that first slice. We managed to hold back and only eat half the loaf. The next day the bread was still soft and made great toast.
Is it any cop?
I’d order a weekly delivery of that sourdough if it were possible. It’s not as sweet as 'walnut and treacle' may imply, the treacle just adds a burnished toffee smokiness. The potato salad starter was a pimped-up version of a familiar staple in our house, except ours doesn’t have smoke, truffle or tiny purple flowers. The next day, Eddie emailed to say he’d forgotten to include a portion of blue Wensleydale which should have gone with it. We didn’t notice anything lacking, but cheese is always welcome on my plate - he insisted on refunding a bit of the cost for that which I thought unnecessary but commendably honest.
Manchester honey and dandelion dressing was another example of playful reworking of basics - I’ve seen Eddie’s new hive on Instagram and I wonder if the honey could be theirs. The stew was a colourful melange of vegetables, butter beans and fried halloumi chunks - my kind of food.
The only thing I wasn’t fully enamoured by was the chocolate dessert. It took me two days to eat one pot. Strikingly crowned with a huge hunk of glistening honeycomb, it was intensely, deeply chocolatey and just that bit too sweet for my taste; honeycomb was one spoonful of sugar too far. Having said that, I did order extra chocolate - I know! - but it was the novelty of it that grabbed me as it reveals Eddie’s mad scientist side with tingling Sichuan pepper, charcoal and caramelised white chocolate. It’s like a Space Age-spiced Caramac.
Overall, a deeply pleasurable experience that makes me all the more excited for the much-anticipated reopening of The Walled Gardens as a supper club.
The Walled Gardens, secret location, Whalley Range
Value for money
I wouldn’t hesitate to order again at this price. The attention to detail, creativity and ingredients are well worth your money.
Packaging and delivery
Most of the packaging is ‘veg ware’ tubs made from plants - applaudable. Still a bit of plastic but very minimal compared to some. Delivered by chef himself - socially distanced.
Virtually no prep whatsoever. Sharpen your bread knife.
Quality and quantity
A hearty amount of plant based food for two.