Comfort food that passes the home-cooking test! Jenny Booth reviews.
My mother was a great home cook but in later life, when her social life was still going full tilt, she became a keen sampler of ready meals. Few met her high standards. (“Pap!” was the usual pungent comment.) Only a handful of dishes were deemed worthy to join her repertoire of favourites, and these had four qualities in common: convenience (no faffing); familiarity (she loved the comfort of a well-known dish, its flavours and textures triggering happy memories of family meals); flavour (she never liked bland food); and price. And so I wish that Aunty Eve’s fabulous frozen ready meals for the older palate had been available when Mum was around – would she have given them the thumbs up? I tasted them to see.
First impressions were excellent. Leigh Herbst, who has set up Aunty Eve’s in memory of her beloved grandmother’s famous home cooking, believes good food should be treated with care and love. It shows, in the way the meals are delivered beautifully packed, wrapped in insulation and ice to prevent defrosting. Each dish looks appetising nestling in its box, hand-finished with breadcrumbs or a scattering of potato cubes. The ingredients are clearly spelled out (in big print, so no squinting), and are all normal, store cupboard staples. Aunty Eve’s has no truck with artificial preservatives – a big tick, in my mum’s book.
The menu choice is bang on the money as comfort food, harking back to the weekly menus of Aunty Eve’s younger days. Fish pie for a Friday; cottage pie midweek; stew, a beef hotpot; a curry (in our house this was how the leftovers of the Sunday roast reappeared); a hearty lasagne and a macaroni cheese – all home-cooked from quality ingredients with a sure hand for texture and flavour. There is even a tangy sweet-and-sour as a reminder of the Chinese takeaway.
Portions are ample but not massive, a sensible size for older appetites. Each contains a generous amount of meat or fish: a modest eater could make two meals out of these. I was impressed with the amount of flaky salmon in the fish pie, and the cheesy depth of its white sauce. One thing that stood out particularly as friendly to the older eater was the soft, melting texture of the meat: the beef and chicken were kind on the teeth, without the rest of the dish being overcooked.
There was no compromise on flavour. I particularly enjoyed the deep, smoky flavours of the 3 bean chilli. The sweet and sour chicken has plenty of zing, and a great balance of sweetness and gentle acidity. In fact, there was a hint too much curry flavour in the chicken tikka masala, reminding me of the curries my mother used to make, heavy on the astringent spices like methi and asafoetida that made the top of your tongue prickle. If I had a reservation it would be that there was no rice to accompany the chilli, the tikka or the sweet-and-sour. For total convenience, these would be complete meals.
Cooking is simplicity itself. The moulded cartons can go straight in the oven or microwave; cooking instructions are broadly the same for each dish, so it is easy to mix-and-match.
Deliveries can be ordered over the phone to save wrestling with the internet, and the packaging is fully recyclable.
So far so good on convenience, familiarity and flavour – and on price, at £5.50 a meal delivered to the door (delivery is free if your order is above £40), this is seriously good value for the quality involved. I think my mum would most definitely have approved.