In the near future, we’ll be able to look forward to dining out again. Meanwhile, some of the region’s best restaurateurs have moved quickly to fill the gap for those who want to eat well.
Andreas Antona is a chef and restaurateur known to many in the region. The owner of numerous restaurants, he came to prominence as the chef-patron at Simpsons, in Edgbaston, near Birmingham, which has retained its Michelin star across two decades. A successful businessman, visionary cook and entrepreneur, he has delighted huge numbers of people at that restaurant over the years.
He started out in Kenilworth, however, and for some years he has also owned a Michelin-starred restaurant there, The Cross. During non-lockdown days, it is run by Adam Bennett, who used to cook at Simpsons and is a dreamy chef.
To satisfy customers from both restaurants and those far beyond, Antona has now created Antona At Home, a delivery service for home cooks who want to create dishes using Michelin-standard ingredients.
The deal, as ever, is simple. Antona At Home has an online menu that typically features three starters, four mains, two desserts and a small selection of accompanying wines. Where once restaurateurs were judged on whether their front of house staff were friendly, now they’re assessed on whether they’ve secured an easy, on-line check out or not. Sometimes life moves fast. In Antona’s case, the process is all quite simple. The selection is uncomplicated, the software is user friendly and couriers deliver food in ecologically-sustainable packaging in good order.
Inside the boxes are easy-to-follow instructions that spell out precisely how to assemble and heat the ingredients. As with the majority of box sellers; the instructions were clear and unambiguous. Individual components were numbered with a black sharpie – 1, 2, 3, 45, 46, 47 and so on – not quite as charming as the companies that have neat little labels, but helpful nonetheless. I imagine restaurateurs must be tearing their hair out; those that still have any. While once they had to worry about polishing the silver cutlery, now they have to make sure the chef doesn’t confuse a 6 for a 9, or else disaster will befall the foolish home cook who puts wasabi buttermilk on a passion fruit panna cotta, or some such.
Antona is a classy operator and though the previous Simpsons At Home box was a little over-priced and the ambitious Stuart Deeley At Home box, also from his stable, somewhat missed the mark; Antona is the best attempt yet. Quality ingredients are prepared by well-skilled chefs and delivered quickly while it’s pretty easy to follow the path to culinary success, providing home cooks are patient.
In our case, therefore, we stared with mushroom gyoza, probably the best dish in the box. Mushroom-filled dumplings were served with a mixed seaweed salad, a garnish of soy-pickled shimeji mushrooms, firm tofu and spring onion. A mushroom-infused dashi was the glue that bound.
The gyoza were gently fried until crisp while the dashi was heated gently in a pan; the latent heat warming the garnish. Served in a fancy bowl, the flavours were lip-smacking. It was a one-star dish, even though this someday chef has spent a lifetime in the front of the restaurant, rather than the kitchen. Great textures and flavours comingled for a light, flavoursome and nourishing bowl of food.
My partner’s starter was pleasant though not so impressive. A salmon rillette was served with cucumber, wasabi buttermilk and frisse. The directions were clear though the buttermilk wasabi was very watery. The flavours, however, were good. The rillette was subtly flavoured with dill and lemon while the wasabi and celery buttermilk added gentle heat.
The showstopper was a Beef Wellington. Sent with accurate, step-by-step instructions, it provided details on how to cook the pastry-encased beef fillet to something approaching perfection. In our case, after a 30-minute rest, the fillet was perfectly pink and deliciously tender. I like to think Antona might have been impressed, had he been invited to share it.
The pastry was buttery and rich, the mushroom duxelles fabulously savoury while there were accurate instructions on how to cook and rest the wellington to avoided the dreaded soggy bottom. It worked like a treat.
Alongside was a fabulous potato terrine, featuring thin layers of interwoven potato that had been beautifully caramelised in the pan until golden brown before being popped into the oven to finish off. Carrots, French beans and long stem broccoli provided a further garnish while the dish was brought together by a savoury and rich Madeira sauce; which was decent without being a true life-changer.
Desserts were fun. A generously-proportioned plum and almond tart was served with mascarpone cream and flaked almonds. It was, quite literally, as easy as pie and twice as delicious. A passion fruit and miso cheesecake concluded proceedings. Featuring passion fruit jam and a white chocolate aero, it wrapped up a perfectly enjoyable evening.
Though scientists have made substantial progress regarding a vaccination, it’s clear that the present wave will still last for a while longer. People do not respect the rules in the way they did in spring, and we have a long winter ahead.
Against such a backdrop, it’s imperative that restaurateurs who are able to trade do so. It’s the time to adapt, rather than sit back. There are gains to be made, while losses might be irreparable. Antona has got his latest box right and it provided joyous eating. There were real stand-out courses, the gyoza foremost among them, as well as the party piece wellington.
It won’t be too long until we’re eating out again at our local restaurants. But until then, supporting those who are being enterprising may well help to save jobs.
Antona At Home
Based in Birmingham
Carrot and ginger soup, parmesan croutons, parsley oil £7.50
Chicken liver parfait, plum jam, chicory and walnut salad, sourdough toast £7.50
Salmon rillette, cucumber, wasabi buttermilk, frissé £7.50
Beef Wellington with truffled mash potatoes, seasonal vegetables and Madeira sauce (for 2) £60
Curried cauliflower, lentil dahl, onion bhajis, coconut £20
Apple tart-tatin, vanilla custard, salted caramel sauce £7.50
Miso and passion fruit cheesecake, white chocolate £7.50