Tom tastes his way across Asia without leaving home.
Over a month into lockdown 3, and the ingenuity of this country’s restaurants never ceases to impress. Beautifully packaged boxes, filled with the fruits of many a fine kitchen, fly across the land, delivering cardboard-clad succour and delight. Yes, they require a little forward planning. And delivery fees can be steep. But by supporting your favourite places and avoiding, where possible, Deliveroo, Uber Eats and their ilk, which can take up a swingeing 35% commission, plus VAT), you’re providing a vital lifeline in these tumultuous times.
And while nothing will replace the clatter of knives and forks, the buzz of a busy service and the fundamental pleasures of a good restaurant, these cook-at-home box kits offer shafts of sunlight in this most gloomy of times.
This week, I’m moving across Asia, starting with Taiwan, and the Classic Pork Bao Made-By-You (baolondon.com), which costs £24 (plus £5 London delivery) for six buns, enough for two people. Steam the bun until gloriously light and fluffy, then stuff with the soft, sticky, gently sweet pork mixture. Add a spoonful of bitter, spicy fermented mustard greens, which cut a merry swathe through all that richness, and sprinkle with peanut powder. Pure Bao brilliance.
Next to Singapore and the marvellous Mei Mei (meimei.uk). I have yet to visit the Borough Market restaurant (I’ll be there as soon as I can), but their beef rendang, at £25 plus £8 delivery and enough for two, is as good as I’ve tasted – fragrant with lemongrass, garlic, galangal and kaffir lime, with a subtle coconut sweetness. A side order of achar pickled vegetables (£5) adds crisp, bright, turmeric-stained crunch.
Finally, piri piri tonkotsu ramen from Shoryu (restokit.co.uk), which costs £22 for two big portions plus £8.25 delivery. This dish, from the Hakata district of Fukuoka City on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, involves the slow and low simmering of pork bones, and is one best left to the experts. The end result is a creamy, lusciously heavy broth enlivened with a spicy sauce, studded with thick slices of char siu pork, kikurage mushrooms, beni shoga red ginger, spring onions and lots of jalapeno chillies. Just as fine are the handmade ramen noodles, winsomely taut and bouncy. Once again, restaurant quality food, easily prepared, and delivered direct to your door.
Drinks: Olly’s wine in cans
In the past, canned wine has been a liquid nightmare, but those days are gone. Portable, easy to chill and less waste are just some of the reasons I am such a fan. The can itself protects the quality of the wine from UV exposure and oxidation, as well as being lighter to transport and recyclable. With 75 per cent of aluminium cans recycled in the UK today, I say drink more canned wine and get recycling up to 100 per cent.
Igo Organic Red NV (14%), £4.99, Waitrose
Spanish splendour: plush, bold and absolutely perfect for a midweek sip.
The Uncommon English Bubbly White 2019 (11.5%), £18.95 for four, Fortnum & Mason
English excellence, this quirky fizz is a dazzling delight.
Kiss of Wine Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (12%), £40 for eight, kissofwine.co.uk
Fruity and dry as a nectarine crossing a desert. Delicious.
Francis Coppola Diamond Series Pinot Noir (13.5%), £134.94 for 24, seabrookwines.co.uk
Premium Pinot! Supple, elegant and impressive. A treat.
Wine of the week:
Most Wanted Pinot Grigio Pink Fizz (11.5%), £2.30, Marks & Spencer
Strawberry sherbet with a dusting of icing sugar. Spritzy and easy to drink.
Join Olly and Matt Tebbutt for their Big Lockdown Love Inn live online on 14 February at 7pm; full details at fane.co.uk/love-inn.