Slowly but surely, more and more of the region’s big hitting restaurants are coming to the party.
Although, with the Government planning to reopen restaurants soon, some will reflect on opportunities missed as they introduced dine-at-home services two months later than they might have done.
The region has a number of exceptional restaurants, with Birmingham second only to London when it comes to great places to eat.
A short drive along the M6 for many of us, it offers five Michelin stars and the most diverse, eclectic and exciting range of international restaurants this side of the United Nations.
Most of the city’s big hitters have opted not to trade through lockdown.
The exception to that rule is the ever-inventive Carter’s of Moseley, which devised a local hamper delivery service. That proved so successful that a regional scheme was quickly upgraded to a national scheme as staff dealt with orders from further afield.
In the case of Simpsons, it is only just getting in on the act by launching its Simpsons At Home service.
You have to give credit to every restaurant that steps up to the plate to fill the void. It’s not easy to come up with a new menu, quantify demand, secure ingredients from suppliers and get staff to take care of complex logistics.
That, however, is what restaurants do best and the Simpsons At Home service is a delight.
We ought not to brush over the fact that it’s a little expensive; as good as the quality of ingredients is, it feels slightly over-priced when pitched against rivals.
However, the service is first class with instructions for heating and assembly easy to follow. It provides the opportunity for a high-end dining experience at home. The only question is: why didn’t they do it a month ago?
Simpsons is arguably the region’s most influential restaurant. Created by owner Andreas Antona, it brought a Michelin star to its former location, in Kenilworth, before relocating to Edgbaston and transferring the star.
Antona is the region’s gastronomic godfather, a popular and widely-respected figure who has been enormously influential across several decades.
He’s trained and worked with a new generation of chefs who have gone on to open their own restaurants, win their own Michelin stars and in turn provide opportunity for others.
Andreas is a classically trained chef and those who work for him tend to stick to embrace his penchant for French-inspired dishes with rich sauces and a minimum of fuss.
Such qualities extend to the Simpsons At Home offering, which features classic Michelin dishes and seasonal ingredients.
Information is available for each week’s menu via the restaurant’s website, orders are placed and collection slots booked so that people don’t all arrive at once.
Boxes are collected from the restaurant, which has hand sanitiser for those arriving. Thought has clearly gone into providing a pleasing experience for customers.
The boxes themselves are very well put together. I ate a Simpsons At Home Summer Menu, which started with two black olive tapenade rolls.
You’d imagine that Simpsons has made hundreds of thousands – or millions – of the rolls over the years and they remain as stunning now as they were 20 years hence.
Popped into the oven for three minutes then served hot, they made for the perfect start to dinner. I’m wondering whether restaurants haven’t unwittingly stumbled across a new formula that will keep them in business in the years to come.
Though there’ll never be a replacement for good restaurants on special occasions – no washing up, service with a smile, beautiful plates and crockery, the buzz of a full dining room the Eat At Home experience is one that many of us would hope to continue in the future.
Cooking high quality dinners is fun, no question, and a new market is emerging should restaurants wish to continue with their box-dinners once lockdown ends.
Our starter, by way of example, was as enjoyable to plate as it was to eat.
A small piping bag of goat’s cheese mousse was squeezed onto the plate, in line with instructions. Six tiny halves of cooked heritage beetroots were placed on top, creating a circular pattern.
A beetroot tea was poured into the shallow bowl and then tiny shards of beetroot cracker were added to the dish, giving it height.
Sorrel leaves – one of nature’s greatest gifts – were added to provide both a visual flourish and a citrus tang.
The dish ate beautifully, with the creamy, slightly chalky mousse being perfectly paired with the earthy, sweet beetroot.
Goat’s cheese and beetroot are one of nature’s most compatible pairings and Simpsons had matched them with rare skill.
The main was decent, though it lost a little in not being served in the restaurant.
A vast Cotswold white chicken breast had been cooked sous vide so that it was perfectly tender. The skin, however, remained flaccid – skin, fat and protein all cook at different temperatures.
Popping it into the oven for nine minutes is insufficient time to render it crisp. That breast and a small piece of beautifully tender thigh were served alongside Jersey royals, asparagus and green beans.
The potatoes were seasoned with yeast flakes while a sherry vinegar sauce bought it altogether.
The sauce, incidentally, was sensational and showed that while it’s possible to come close to good restaurants if you’re a decent cook, you can never really match them. Deep, rich, sticky and intoxicating, it was the stuff of dreams; we only wished there’d been more.
Dessert was dreamy. A lemon panna cotta had just the right amount of wobble and was deliciously sharp. Rapsberries and a piece of white chocolate aero completed dinner and the experience had been thoroughly enjoyable.
I’ve no doubt the Simpsons chefs would agree that they can’t quite replicate the restaurant experience in customer’s homes – that, surely, is the point of going to the restaurant – though they came pretty close.
The prices were a little high, the chicken skin a little flabby, but those minor gripes aside, it was a first class dinner.
Sample menu £44.19
Black olive tapenade rolls (gluten, dairy)
Heritage tomato salad, halloumi, onions, capers (dairy, sulphites)
Lamb kleftico, toasted cracked wheat, pomegranate, pine nuts, tenderstem broccoli, parsley and mint, lamb jus (gluten, sulphites)
Lemon panna cotta, raspberry, white chocolate aero (dairy)
Simpsons at home
Order and collect service
20, Highfield Road,