Lockdown food review: Perfect feast from class act Five Rivers
Food writer Andy Richardson enjoys a Rolls Royce offering that scores a straight ten from one of the region’s best restaurants.
Everything about the Five Rivers’ click and collect service suggests class.
From the clear information on its website to the ease with which orders are placed, from the branded and recyclable boxes in which food is provided to the clean and hygienic procedures when collections are made; Five Rivers doesn’t miss a beat.
It is also keen to create the right impression and provide great service – notwithstanding the fact customers can’t sit down to eat.
So, for instance, the restaurant has been reconfigured with a space in which people can wait while WhatsApp messages are sent to guests afterwards, checking that they’ve enjoyed their dinner.
It’s a novel, digital twist on activities that waiters might be expected to engage in in other times.
Aside from the lengths to which Five Rivers goes to provide a good customer experience – and that extends to the politeness, polish and professionalism from its exemplary staff at the door – their offer also provides the most important of things: joy.
Dishes put a smile on the face of customers, they are providers of happiness, they transport people away from the gloom of Covid and remind us of happier times.
Five Rivers is, of course, one of the region’s best. It celebrates Indian food in sumptuous surrounds and has a highly-regarded chef. I’d rank it second only to Aktar Islam’s brilliant, Michelin-starred Opheem, in Birmingham, which puts it ahead of a select group of first class restaurants in Wolverhampton and Ludlow.
The food is magical; delicately spiced, cooked with precision and presented as though it were a painting.
It’s become an integral part of the region’s dining scene since its launch and deserves the many accolades that it’s received.
It didn’t rush to provide a dine-at-home service and perhaps that was to its credit.
A number of other venues threw up pop-up ideas but found themselves mired in difficulties; phone numbers were constantly engaged, emails received no replies, it became harder to order food than it was to cook it from a Loyd Grossman jar.
Five Rivers took its time, worked through the detail and launched when it was ready to hit the ground running.
It covered all angles, from creating a menu that translates well to the home to ensuring packaging and service were tip top.
The food was utterly magnificent. Group Executive Chef Rashpal Sunner has a rare talent and his work is in no way diminished by Five Rivers’ present Thursday to Sunday home service.
While Sunner might be more used to cooking for world leaders and a discerning clientele, he’s turned his hand to takeaway with devasting effect.
The menu is diverse, providing exceptional value with platters-for-two at £20 or £25 – a figure that competes with the prices at bog standard curry houses – as well as offering à la carte offerings.
We started with poppadoms, as you do. It’s funny how many curry houses mess up the simplest of things, serving awful, syrupy mango chutney, too-hot chilli sauces, wan, thin and watery raita and day-old onion salad.
We know poppadoms are as cheap as chips and freely available from the supermarkets, guys, but at least make the effort.
Sunner, in contrast, transforms the humble snack into a feast with dips that are stunning. A mint dip was thick, creamy and fragrantly aromatic, having been made with fresh herbs. A mango chutney featured delicious chunks of fruit. A tomato and onion number was whizz-bang fresh. They were delicious, a cut above the rest.
The starters were similarly enjoyable. I opted for a tried and trusted onion bhaji, another dish that all too often is reduced to a mash of greasy, over-cooked onions.
In Sunner’s hands, the bhaji were light and crisp with delicate, caramelised strands of onion encased in the lightest of batters. Crunchy and eaten with the remainder of the poppadum dips, they were heavenly.
My partner enjoyed tandoori jingha, jumbo prawns that had been marinated in a blend of spices before being cooked on a skewer over charcoal flames.
The drive home gave them time to rest a little so that they were deliciously sweet, tender and soft. The spices were exquisite, the work of an exceptional craftsman.
We both ate curry as our main. I chose a chooza makhana, a speciality Punjabi dish with pieces of tender chicken breast simmered in a smooth sauce of smoked tomato, yoghurt and cashew nut. It had been blended with kasoori fenugreek and was utterly divine.
Silky, smooth and wonderfully well balanced, it shot straight to the top of my dishes-I-must-eat-again list. The chicken had been cooked perfectly and the dish was so voluminously served that there was plenty for the following day.
My partner’s Goan fish curry was equally special. Fillets of Tilapia had been simmered in a traditional Goan masala of piaz, coriander seeds, green chillies and coconut milk.
The heat of the chilli was tempered by the cool coconut while the coriander seeds gave it a delicious fragrance. Served on a bed of aromatic mushroom pilau, it made for happy eating.
A peshawari naan, meanwhile, provided accompaniment for all. Topped with cherries, sultanas, coconut, cashews and almonds that had been ground into a sweet, sticky paste, it was a taste of heaven.
A note on service. I arrived to pick up my food 15 minutes earlier than planned; the result of no traffic on local roads.
Though Five Rivers had my food ready on the minute they’d said, they also provided two complimentary beers and apologised that I’d had to wait. The wait, of course, was my own responsibility.
Their warmth and generous hospitality didn’t go unnoticed.
Covid-19 has provided no hiding place for restaurants. The lazy have stayed at home and not bothered to adapt; their P45s will be along in due course. The unskilled have just about scraped by, making basic errors, the innovative and skilful have shone.
Having visited most of the region’s best restaurants during the past three months, I’ve only found one that’s providing a more complete offer than Five Rivers.
We’ll all be thrilled when it re-opens, but in the meantime, treat yourself to a Rolls Royce offering that scores a straight ten.
Imperial platter for two, £20
Presidential platter for two, £25
Tawa tikki, £6
Chilli paneer, £6.50
Mirchi murgh, £8.50
Karahi chicken, £10.50
Chatpata gosht, £11.50
Goan fish curry, £13.50
Mushroom pilau, £4
Tandoori roti, £3
Tandoori naan, £3
Click and collect delivery service
Vicarage Place, Walsall