We’re two months into lockdown, but the number of restaurants and bistros that have adapated to the new normal remains bafflingly low.
For an industry founded on innovation and creativity, it’s been a surprise to see just how many have been left behind in the race.
Cash reserves are dwindling, bills are going unpaid and chefs continue to imagine a productive use of their time is posting funny pictures to Twitter, rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it.
The profits they were able to make pre-Covid-19 were never particularly high, with notable exceptions. And now they must reconcile themselves to the fact that simply surviving is an achievement.
Those who have spent the past two months moaning, perfecting XBox skills and amusing friends on Tik Tok won’t be around when restrictions are lifted.
A small number, however, are refusing to let the grass grow under their feet. Brad Carter, at Carters of Moseley, is firmly in the latter camp.
His team has rallied behind him as he has created a new hamper company, delivering Michelin-standard ingredients to addresses in our region.
Initially, the hampers were delivered just to those within 10 miles of the restaurant. But the venture has proved so popular that they’ve switched to a nationwide service – meaning each and every one of us can enjoy Michelin-standard dining with a little help from Mr Postman.
Carter is one of the region’s most distinguished chefs. Frequently included in these pages, he’s featured in The Good Food Guide, has held a Michelin star for some years and has won numerous national competitions.
While many chefs sit at home and confuse the word ‘lockdown’ for ‘holiday’, Carter has been rolling his sleeves up.
Cracking jokes on Twitter or posting photographs of marshmallows to Instagram is fun, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Setting up a product-led hamper service does, however, and Carter has stolen a march on the competition.
Because here’s the thing. Yes, the biggest cost of running a restaurant is the staff. You need people to cook the food and ferry it to the table.
And yes, the Government’s furlough scheme has ensured that restaurants no longer have to foot the cost of that.
In most cases, their wage bill has been reduced to zero. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still bills to pay.
Rent, utilities, loans, equipment, investments and so much more all require a constant flow of cash. And those who are not earning are gradually becoming immersed in debt.
A number of high-end restaurants have considered the idea of takeaway. Most have viewed it sniffily, reasoning they’d not do justice to their food or, more accurately, thinking they’re above all of that.
Carters has embraced the idea of humility, however, and is doing a roaring trade. Good for them.
They’ve teamed up with their producers to keep supply lines open. So brilliant pork farms are slaughtering animals to keep up with demand.
Fishermen from Scotland and Cornwall, who would otherwise have zero income, are being dispatched to sea so that the people of the West Midlands can enjoy great food.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Lockdown doesn’t mean everything ought to grind to a halt. Those with initiative and chutzpah, those with grit and determination can get the job done.
And we – the lucky eaters – can feast on that hard work.
The premise for the Carter’s hampers is simple. They typically contain a cooked meal to eat on the day of delivery, or to refrigerate or freeze.
Additionally, there are some of the best raw ingredients so that customers can cook a dish at home – Carters-style, with tips from the chef.
We opted for the Nose-To-Tail-Pork Hamper, which cost £70 and contained enough pork to last a week.
The raw ingredients in ours contained two neck chops, four flavoured leek-and-pork sausages, two delicious sausage rolls to cook at home, four rashers of back bacon and a 500g belly bacon kit, allowing us to make our own bacon at home.
Additionally, there was 100g of rendered back fat, which was perfect for either roast potatoes or dripping to spread on toast.
There were four rings of black pudding, two fabulous pork pies, 80g of the chef’s own red onion chutney, a portion of terrine, 100g of country ham and two Braeburn apples.
And then the feast began.
The pork pies were beautifully seasoned and proved to be a perfect pairing with the sweet and lightly acidulated chutney and the sweet-sharp apples.
The ham was paired with a strong Keen’s cheddar (from the fridge, not the hamper) to make delicious toasted sandwiches, complete with the rest of the chutney. It was like a trip back to the 1970s, with our friend Mr Breville.
The neck chops made a great dinner with a few seasonal Jersey Royals and new season asparagus, while the bacon, sausage and black pudding provided a gourmet breakfast for two.
The bacon kit provided both great, indulgent eating – it worked – as well as a creative outlet during lockdown, while the sausage rolls were wonderfully meaty with a light, golden pastry. They filled the house with savoury aromas as they baked in the oven.
The system was brilliantly administered by Carters' resident restaurant manager, Alex, who had explained the options before we placed an order: there’s also a meat hamper, a fish hamper and a Sunday roast hamper featuring a premium ex-dairy cote de boeuf to feed four – as well as half a smoked organic chicken and various whistles and bells.
Oh, and for the boozers among you, there are various wine hampers to suit all budgets.
Carters isn’t just providing great food – it’s also providing employment, both for its staff, for farmers, for delivery drivers and all others in the supply chain.
And when the restaurant returns, it will be able to generate additional revenues from its new hamper service. Well done them.
While some restaurants at the top end imagine takeaways and hampers are beneath them, Carters has embraced modernity and proved its adaptability.
The new game in town is called survival of the fittest – Carters is providing exceptional ingredients and a great service that shows its gold medal standard.
If you know of a food business that’s offering a brilliant take-away/delivery service, let us know.
Email email@example.com with the details, so we can check it out.
A range of premium ingredients to cook with from home
Ex-dairy steaks, Mayan Gold potatoes, 1 garlic bulb, 1 tub of Carters fermented wild garlic, 1x bunch of Wye Valley asparagus, 1x bag Westlands salad, Westlands heritage tomatoes.
A cooked meal pre-prepared and ready to go
1x half smoked organic chicken, 1x tub ex-dairy beef and tomato ragu, 1x tub wild garlic mayonnaise, Carters pickles, 1x tub Carters hot hot hot sauce, 100g red cabbage slaw
Carters of Moseley
Nationwide Hamper Service
0121 449 8885