The Handbook
The Handbook

I’m not much of a cook. I burned water the other day; who knew you could burn water? The two times I’ve cooked a special meal for my wife she’s landed up with food poisoning and vowed never to let me in the kitchen again and, on balance, I’m what could be kindly termed a liability with a ladle. Which is what makes this all the more extraordinary: I just cooked a meal worthy of London’s top fine dining restaurants…

Okay, so I sort-of cheated, I did have the help of Ruth Hansom, one of the country’s most exceptional young chefs, but thanks to a new service from a company called Banquist so can you. And trust me, if I can make a success of this then so can you.

So the premise is pretty simple. Banquist work with a different high-flying chef each fortnight, the chef creates a menu and they pre-prepare all the food and pack it in a hamper along with a sommelier-selected bottle of wine. I just had to go on the website, pay a reasonable £75 for two (but reduced by 25% to £56.25 when you use the code HANDBOOK25!) and wait for the hamper to arrive. This was going to be a doddle.

I’m never excited about receiving post adult life has taught us that the postman only brings us bad things;...But this Saturday was different as I scoured the street for delivery vans but that’s what the promise of soused sardines, pork belly and Eton mess does to you.

I’m never excited about receiving post adult life has taught us that the postman only brings us bad things; credit card statements, threatening letters from the TV Licensing people and a never-ending caravan of disastrous late night eBay purchases. But this Saturday was different as I scoured the street for delivery vans (unnecessary as they give you a set slot). But that’s what the promise of soused sardines, pork belly and Eton mess does to you.

Opening up the box everything is neatly packed in eco-friendly packaging, ready to be deployed when you hit the kitchen. Pop the necessary bits in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. With my wife still reeling from the last poisoning incident I was cooking for a ‘foodie’ friend who was willing to suspend his deep scepticism at my kitchen skills for long enough to agree to play guinea pig. And so the experience began.

Withdrawing the smartly printed instructions, I went online to the accompanying video where Ruth hand-holds you through the cooking. The menu takes dishes from Ruth Hansom’s time on Great British Menu. Her brief was ‘children’s literature’ and so the starter drew inspiration from The Railway Children, which apparently includes the line ‘Don’t put the marmalade spoon in among the sardines’. So that’s exactly what she decided to do, albeit switching marmalade for rhubarb purée and adding in Hansom’s twist on a Yorkshire parkin, it was going to be a curious starter to cook.

Carefully unpacking my bits, as it were, I separated out the courses on the worktop and set to work heating pre-made pickling liquid in a saucepan, chopping the shalots and artistically (ish) spreading parkin mix on a roasting tray. Alternating between two ovens and a hob like a pro, working from multiple timers and quietly encouraged by the chef in the video, things were going great.

To be fair, I’d never have ordered this in a restaurant, and that made it all the more thrilling to discover how great it tasted.

Served with rhubarb purée, the finished result looked fine on the plate and was, despite the left-field combo of fish, fruit and parkin, an absolute treat. To be fair, I’d never have ordered this in a restaurant, and that made it all the more thrilling to discover how great it tasted.

The main involved wrapping three types of beetroot in a tin foil parcel along with salt, oil and a pre-mix of thyme and rosemary to bake, searing the pork belly, cooking Jersey potatoes and juggling timings and prep. To a kitchen klutz like me, this should be the equivalent of landing the Space Shuttle, and yet the instructions, which where to find each relevant part on the video, made it utterly simple to manage and follow.

The dish was a nod to Hansom’s favourite book series growing up, Horrible Histories, and referenced Smashing Saxons, which explains that Anglo Saxons wore pigs on their helmets into battle for good luck. The dish brought her luck on Great British Menu and was having the same effect for me.

Because it was splendid to enjoy! Plating up like a professional chef, the pork belly, beetroot shapes, drizzled in sauce and served alongside turnip and Jerseys in black pudding butter combined to be the best meal I’ve enjoyed since the beginning of lockdown and beating many a restaurant bought meal.

Accompanying the course, a New Zealand pinot noir that was light and smooth and utterly delectable. From Bannockburn in Central Otago, the Wild Earth 2019 vintage was the perfect pairing.

On to pudding. Raspberry Eton mess really is simple to make, whip the cream (supplied, of course) stirring in some raspberry, break up the meringue, scatter more raspberries and scoff. Delicious!

And that’s how I recreated Ruth Hansom’s Great British Menu winner, and unlike when I’m normally let loose on hob, I couldn’t have been further from bringing on a period of prolonged gastroenteritis for my guest, we both genuinely agreed that it was excellent.

The food was fabulous, but I have to raise a glass of Wild Earth pinot to Banquist, because the concept is too. This doesn’t feel like a lockdown novelty but rather has the distinct air of a business that’s here to stay. Impressively put together, it’s a new service but it has real longevity to it. If they can make a cook of me, and enjoyably so, then they’re onto something. Farewell beans on toast!

Book Ruth’s menu today for this weekend or wait until 6pm today (Tuesday 23rd June) the next batch of hampers go online, for delivery next weekend and chef Masterchef Winner Sven Hanson is in charge of the menu. Get 25% off using the code HANDBOOK25.


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