These high-end suppliers are brightening up our homes – and pantries – during lockdown
Discover the fresh produce, fish, flowers and chocolate available direct to your door
Although the UK may be entering a more relaxed stage in the lockdown process against the Covid-19 pandemic, for many, our homes will still be the heart of our day-to-day lives for the foreseeable future. Cue the high-end suppliers who have adapted to home deliveries in order to provide a little extra to their clientele.
An additional bonus is that, for consumers, there has never been a better – or more compelling – time to buy British, with local produce able to travel safely from farm to table via a network of wholesalers, markets and small businesses now supplying direct to people’s homes during lockdown. Not only are these services supporting the local economy, but you’re helping British growers stay in business – indeed, the online grocery market is forecast to grow by 33% in 2020 to reach an estimated value of £16.8 billion as shoppers continue to avoid stores.
From sustainable seafood to local fruit and veg, flower arrangements and fine wine tastings, scrumptious chocolate and even the guilty pleasure of a gourmet burger, read on for some of our favourite delivery services in the capital.
FRESH FRUIT AND VEG: DOGGART & SQUASH
I feel like a MasterChef contestant let loose in the popular TV cooking show’s overflowing pantry when boxes of gloriously colourful fresh fruit and veg arrive on my doorstep courtesy of Doggart & Squash. There’s something particularly satisfying about fruit and veg when delivered in its natural state, free of the usual plastic packaging you find in supermarkets, and so fresh you can almost smell the soil.
My box includes sweet potatoes, beetroot, lettuce, chives from the London Herb Company, and asparagus from Spilmans family farm in Yorkshire. There’s fruit including bananas, pineapple, apples and nectarines, and pantry essentials such as bottled milk, home-baked sourdough, Castle Dairies unsalted butter, a dozen eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice. It’s the kind of old-fashioned, no-fuss fare that instantly transports you to a different era, before ready meals existed and makes me pledge to get creative and use everything, down to the last cavolo nero stem.
Founders Clare Doggart and Sarah Haggie decided to start making home deliveries London-wide (and Surrey on Fridays) to help support their regular suppliers and have been so overwhelmed by the response, that they’ve updated their website with an online shop and are continually adding new items. “People get really excited about the milk bottles,” says Doggart, whose team of chefs, led by Sarah, also produce 200 meals a day for NHS workers at King’s College Hospital in South East London, where the company is based. “It’s really fulfilling helping the NHS and people who struggle to get out [to go shopping].” >>
FABULOUS FLOWERS: LUCY VAIL FLORISTRY
Doggart & Squash have joined forces with Lucy Vail Floristry so you can brighten up your day at home with a delivery of fresh food and fabulous flowers. The award-winning London based Floral Design company specialises in installations and weddings as well as private and corporate events, but has turned the expert arranging skills that usually decorate the likes of Claridges Hotel to home deliveries. Keen to support essential workers, Vail is also raising money for a worthy cause, such the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, each week.
Lucy Vail’s flowers are all British grown and seasonal with her top five picks for the month being sweet peas, tulips, hellebores, narcissi and ranunculus. She also delivers purifying house plants and herb pots for cooking and is introducing a video guide to “build your own bouquet”. >>
COCKTAILS TO GO: THE COCKTAIL DELIVERY COMPANY
There’s nothing like a cocktail to capture those elusive holiday vibes – and sipping one of The Cocktail Delivery Company’s hand-crafted mixes is no exception, even if it is savoured from the familiar environs of your own back garden.
There’s a host of enticing concoctions on the menu, ranging from signature ‘plum and tonic’ and ‘rhubarb gimlet’ to classic cosmopolitan and expresso martini. We opted for ‘perfect pear’, which comprises vodka shaken with fresh lemon, pear liqueur, sage cordial and pear juice, and the absolutely moreish – but quite potent - ‘thyme is on our side’, made from rum and fig liqueur shaken with honey and fresh lime.
Prepared by world-class mixologists, each bottle serves seven and comes with complementary garnishes such as lavender and thyme sprigs. The drinks couldn’t be easier to mix either, with instructions on the bottle (they will keep their delicious taste for up to five days), although it helps if you have your own cocktail shaker. Literally, all you have to do is shake, pour and sip – and you’re immediately transported to a tropical island in the sunshine (okay, you might have to close your eyes). >>
FISHY FEAST: THE UPPER SCALE
You know when notoriously picky food critic Jay Rayner gives a place the thumbs up that you’re on to something special. Writing in The Observer, he recently singled out fish and seafood wholesaler The Upper Scale, which normally supplies some of London’s finest dining establishments and is now making home deliveries. He’s not the only celebrity fan – chefs Jason Atherton and Pierre Koffmann have both posted videos and pictures on Instagram of dishes they’ve created at home using premium quality fish from the veteran Billingsgate Market company.
Sales director Phil Reed says the feedback from customers has been “tremendous” and quite emotional at times, with home chefs proudly sending in photos of their culinary triumphs from Dover Sole to Sicilian prawns, and repeat orders flooding in. “Everyone wants to show off their dishes – they could definitely grace any restaurant in London,” testifies Phil, who is more used to supplying the likes of The Goring Hotel and Sketch, Mayfair.
The choice on the website is almost limitless – there’s delicious lemon sole, sea trout, fresh squid, whole mackerel, oysters and scallops – all of it sustainably sourced, mostly from British waters. The fish comes beautifully wrapped in paper and packaged in clearly marked sealed bags and the portions are restaurant-sized with all the fiddly prep work, such as descaling, done for you. >>
VIRTUAL WINE TASTING: ELIZABETH & WINE
In my experience, wine tastings can often be a tad serious and long-winded. Not so with Elizabeth Hawthornthwaite of Elizabeth & Wine. The qualified sommelier is passionate about making wine “simple, fun and accessible”, which she certainly succeeds in during our hour-long virtual Zoom session. Hawthornwaite’s goal is to make drinking behind closed doors as sociable as possible, inviting attendees to get together with a small number of households to enjoy two bottles of carefully selected fine wine during the tasting, which are set to themes including ‘women in wine’, ‘hidden gems’ and ‘holidays’.
“It’s all about having fun and pleasure and putting you in a lovely holiday mood while hopefully building your knowledge and confidence,” says Hawthornthwaite, who started her wine events and consultancy business three years ago after running some of London’s top bars and restaurants, including The Kitty Hawk, One Under Lime and The Oyster Shed.
For our tasting, Hawthornthwaite chose two fascinating wines: a 2016 Dobogo, Tokaji Furmint from Hungary and a Donnafugata, Floramundi from Sicily. The Tokaji region of Hungary is noted for its sweet wines but this golden yellow Furmint was deliciously dry with fresh pear and pineapple notes and a hint of spiciness. “It’s similar to a New Zealand sauvignon blanc but so much more – a splash of sunshine with a bright edge and a waxy opulence,” describes Hawthornwaite. A blend of two grapes indigenous to Sicily, the Floramundi 2017 was juicy and vibrant with black cherry and plum notes and spicy hints of black pepper. It should be served slightly chilled while the Furmint is best when taken from the fridge ten minutes before drinking.
“Although born out of necessity, it’s been so exciting to see how the virtual side of the business has taken off, and I definitely think this will remain a part of my offering in the future,” she says. >>
VIRTUAL CHOCOLATE TASTING: FIRETREE
For those of us with a sweet tooth, Firetree presents the ultimate decadent lockdown treat: a virtual tasting of rich volcanic chocolate. The new super-premium chocolate brand Firetree sources its distinctive cocoa beans from small island estates in Madagascar and the Pacific Islands, a series of active volcanoes stretching from New Zealand to Alaska, known as the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’. It’s the volcanic terroirs that give the beans from the cacao tree (known as ‘firetrees’ because of their flame-hued pods) their distinctive taste.
Each of the 20-minute virtual tasting session involves trying three 65g bars – I sampled the Papua New Guinea Karkar Island, with taste notes of walnut, wild mushroom and truffles; the Philippines Mindanao Island, with hints of honey, caramel and citrus; and Vanuatu Malekula Island, which boasts complex flavours of cherry, white grape and soft lemon. From the company’s Peterborough warehouse, Firetree co-founder Martyn O’Dare, who has an incredible 38 years’ experience in the industry, explained the four principles of chocolate tasting while talking us through the bean-to-bar process. “You go on a little journey when you eat chocolate,” he says.
The natural range is dairy-free and suitable for vegans, with the chocolate produced in a nut-free factory using only cocoa beans, cocoa butter, un-refined cane sugar and sunflower lecithin. Firetree also works closely and directly with all its farmers to ensure the best, sustainable agricultural practice. >>
RELAXED DINING: PATTY&BUN
This is definitely my kind of isolation cooking – the Lockdown DIY Patty Kit by gourmet burger chain Patty&Bun enables you to produce restaurant-quality burgers that taste as good as they look. Delivered straight to your door, the kit contains everything you need to make two Ari Gold cheeseburgers (named after the HBO sitcom Entourage character) and two Smokey Robinson burgers (named in honour of the American singer/producer), including P&B’s signature HG Walter beef patties, brioche buns, mayo, cheese slices and, naturally, home-made pickles and smokey onions.
There’s also a vegan option, which comes with plant-based patties, ‘THIS Isn’t Bacon’, plant-based buns and vegan cheese and mayo. Initially a bit sceptical, I was soon won over by the enticing smells that started wafting from the fry pan. But, it was no match when compared to the real deal: the HG Walter beef patties and smoked streaky bacon, complete with Bread Ahead brioche buns and Red Leicester cheese.
Patty&Bun will also be posting burger and cocktail tutorials on their Instagram page @pattyandbun, and host a weekly #DIYpattychallenge for the best-looking homemade burger.
DON’T MISS THESE OTHER AT-HOME SUPPLIERS
• Independent London doughnut-makers The Crosstown Collective
• Petersham Nurseries Richmond selling fresh produce from the family farm, plus wine and meat
• New Covent Garden Market wholesalers are continuing to make home deliveries
• Smith & Brock are working with artisanal grocery producers to sell directly
• Farmdrop delivering organic fruit & veg from local and sustainable growers
• Riverford supplys set boxes packed with seasonal organic fruit and veg
• Private members’ club 67 Pall Mall has created The Virtual Club for a daily Zoom series of online wine tasting events.
• The Wine Workshop is hosting online wine and food pairing workshops, featuring industry luminaries such as Jane Parkinson, Douglass Blyde and Master of Wine, Nancy Gilchrist.