Everyone knows that I love to dine, but I also love to cook – from scratch, with fresh ingredients, so it should come as no surprise that ready meals never put in an appearance in my kitchen.
You could be forgiven for thinking that I’d compromised on this if you didn’t know a bit more about the concept of COOK, who pride themselves on making and delivering “Remarkable meals for your freezer” – and have been doing it for 15 years! I was invited to try what COOK have to offer, and as soon as I read a bit more about them I was definitely sold on the idea. Traditionally, pre-prepared meals tend to be targeted at people who can’t cook, won’t cook or don’t have time to cook. But COOK’s offering is actively aimed at people who CAN cook, DO cook and love to cook – but occasionally want a night off, without having to compromise on quality or ingredients.
There are shops nationwide, and they also do home deliveries, with home delivery available in most Cardiff postcodes. I visited their Cardiff branch in Wellfield Road, Roath (which has ample free on street parking nearby, should you be planning a visit!) The shop had the feel of a country kitchen to it – beautifully decorated with lots of light wood and big freezers in a variety of different sections: meals for one, meals for two, children’s meals, Indian, vegetarian, desserts…to name but a few. Even more tempting dishes are available on the website. The lady who served me clearly loves working there – she had a natural enthusiasm for the concept and the products, and spoke authoritatively about them with personal experience. She asked what kind of thing I wanted to try, and after a brief look around, I decided to go for two beef wellingtons (£15.99). She suggested a potato Dauphinoise (£2.99) to go with it, and said that when she has this meal at home, she serves it with green beans. For pudding, I chose a blackberry and apple crumble (£3.25).
All of the food is prepared by hand, in COOK’s kitchen in Kent, using fresh, quality ingredients, so it looks, tastes – and IS – homemade. Each dish has the name of the chef on the box (which I thought was a lovely touch). I love COOK’s packaging and brand too – lots of nice quotes about food and notes about the company written in a personal, conversational tone. As a marketer, I get very excited about lovely brands! Once made, all the dishes are frozen at -35 degrees, so there’s no need to include preservatives or other nasties. They can then be put in your own freezer at home and cooked from frozen. Some of them are microwave-able too. Each dish has cooking instructions, but acknowledges that everyone’s oven has its own ‘personality’ – accepting, again, that people buying these dishes do know their way around a kitchen and don’t need completely prescriptive instructions.
The dishes we tried were, quite simply, excellent – I’d go as far as to say restaurant quality and I was blown away by how good they were. I was expecting them to be significantly better than your average supermarket ready meal, but certainly not this good! The beef wellingtons were delicious: succulent, tender beef (which I cooked for a bit less time than recommended as there was only a time given for medium or well done and we prefer our beef medium rare), topped with a delicious, rich, perfectly seasoned mushroom duxelle, and encased in a lattice of buttery pastry. Because of the lattice I did wonder if maybe the beef would dry out, but it didn’t. I’d have been more than happy to have been served this in a restaurant and to have paid at least twice what it cost for the dish. Similarly, the potatoes were great too – they came in a fairly shallow dish, so any concerns I’d had about their perhaps not being cooked through (or burning on the top before being fully defrosted/cooked underneath) were unfounded. They were not completely faithful to a traditional Dauphinoise recipe, with the sauce having cheddar cheese in it, but this didn’t matter as they tasted so good, with a rich, creamy sauce that you could tell had been made from scratch.
Our pudding was similarly delicious. It suggested serving with lashings of vanilla ice cream, but I opted for custard, and it was great! The crumble topping was crisp and oaty and the fruit was deliciously sweet. It tasted 100% homemade and really couldn’t be faulted at all. Had I made it myself, I’d have been absolutely thrilled with it!
I love the concept of COOK. They have a whole range of dishes on offer to suit a variety of tastes, and with various home delivery package options, you could easily eat well every night of the week from COOK if you wanted to. Admittedly, this wouldn’t be a bargain basement option, but if money is no object but time is, and good food is still important, then this could be a great option for you. I can see it being a lovely option for elderly people as well who may have loved cooking in the past, but perhaps don’t feel like doing it every night any more. Also, with the meals all cooking from frozen, it gives you the option of keeping them handy in the freezer and no waste, which can happen if you get something out of the freezer for dinner then end up with unexpected plans to go out instead! I think this idea should appeal more to home cooks than something like Gousto, which I tried recently, which wasn’t much less hassle than cooking from scratch but also managed to take the fun out of it!
Where I think COOK really comes into its own is as an occasional treat for people who generally cook but just sometimes fancy a night off – or want something handy in the freezer for use at short notice. I am definitely planning to head back to the Roath store to stock up on a few meals to keep in my freezer for just such occasions. Even just the experience of going into the shop was lovely as it’s great to be in an environment that takes a pride in good food and ingredients, with people working there who clearly have a passion for the company. It’s admittedly more expensive than the “Dine in” deals that a lot of restaurants offer these days, but the quality is far better, simply because the dishes genuinely look, taste and feel homemade. Similarly, for couples who perhaps can’t dine out as much as they’d like to, perhaps due to lack of a babysitter, it’s the next best thing to going out to a restaurant and is perfect for a ‘date night’ at home – you can have really good food, but can relax while it’s in the oven and have minimal washing up afterwards!
COOK currently have some special Valentine’s dinner packages available, such as the beef wellingtons I tried, salmon en croute, confit duck or even heart shaped pies. I’m personally not a fan of celebrating Valentine’s Day, but if it’s special for you but you don’t want to join legions of other couples in a decidedly unromantic set meal at a restaurant, perhaps a meal for two from COOK at home could be a much more enjoyable alternative.
COOK Cardiff, 18 Wellfield Road, Cardiff CF24 3PB
Thank you to COOK Cardiff for my sample dishes, which were complimentary.