Review Meal Box: Restaurant quality dishes with the ‘culinary crack’ of 2020

Exceptional value and, better still, a bottle of low intervention wine is included

The Allta box. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Allta box. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

One of the first things I did when we went into the Great Lockdown, which of course we all now know was in fact Lockdown 1, was order an Allta box. They were new to the game, and things were a little shaky at first. I wasn’t quite sure whether my delivery would be on a Thursday or Friday, and at what time. But now things are running like clockwork.

So as I drop in to collect my weekend treat, I can’t actually recall if this is my sixth or seventh Allta box. Why so many? Because it is full of things that I simply would never make at home. Yes, I’ve kept up my sourdough habit, but Allta’s is at a completely different level.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth

Generally, it has something interesting incorporated into it, this time it’s a touch of seaweed, which goes incredibly well with their shiitake miso butter, which is the culinary crack of 2020. Rich and intensely savoury from the barley koji, the finely chopped shiitake mushrooms are cut with a dash of malt vinegar, and if you’ve never had it, this alone is enough reason to order this box.

There are quite a few moving parts to an Allta box, but once you get all of that squared away, you can sit down to a long leisurely dinner, starting with the wonderful sourdough, and ventricina, a pork salami, which has just enough porcine flavour and a kick of heat to let you know that this is made inhouse. The accompanying bottle of wine, La Cuisine De Ma Mère 2018, is a low intervention Cabernet Franc from the Loire, and is incredibly good throughout our meal.

My weekend treat from Allta. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
My weekend treat from Allta. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The starter is a salad of pumpkin. It has been cut into fine strips and pickled gently, and is served on top of a beautiful mix of salad leaves. The pumpkin dressing, which is drizzled over, is layered with flavours of sweet pumpkin, a slight sourness from sheep’s yogurt, and has a nice kick of anise from the tarragon.

The Allta box normally has two pasta-inspired courses, this week it is gnocchi made with Rockfield sheep’s cheese and Ballymakenny potatoes, and lamb rigatoni. Whereas, on occasions, I have just had one of these courses, and kept the other for the next evening, it is lovely to eat at a leisurely pace and enjoy them all over convivial chat.

The only thing is, you do have to jump up and down from the table a bit. So there’s a bit of work involved, frying off the gnocchi and miatake mushrooms in a pan before adding the kale and finishing it off in the oven. But this really is a beautiful, complex dish. The celeriac sauce adds a distinct nuttiness and there’s another layer of flavour from the smoked almond dressing and crispy kale on top.

Preparation of the lamb rigatoni is straightforward – just cook the pasta, reheat the sauce and assemble. What’s noteworthy about this dish is its lightness. Too often dishes where the meat has been slow cooked can seem a little bit deadening, but the smoked crème fraiche, crispy buckwheat and tiny dice of pickled kohlrabi really keep this dish interesting, and I don’t feel like I need a lie down afterwards.

Dessert is ready to serve – chocolate cake with spiced pumpkin cream. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Dessert is ready to serve – chocolate cake with spiced pumpkin cream. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Dessert is ready to serve – chocolate cake with spiced pumpkin cream, which is deliciously chocolatey without being too heavy. And, in case you want a little bit more work, there is dough to make sable biscuits, which would be beautiful with an espresso.

Dinner for two, which includes a bottle of wine, is €75

  • Verdict All the dishes are precise, detailed and layered with flavour, a true Allta experience
  • Difficulty factor The only skill required is cooking the pasta properly, but there’s work to be done for each course
  • Food provenance Everything is from top producers, a few, like Ballymakenny Farm, are listed
  • Vegetarian options An equally good vegetarian option is available, for two people
  • Delivery National delivery and click and collect in Dublin.

Three to try

The Cosmic Taco Box
City Quay, Dublin 2, click and collect, 6th and 7th November, asone.ie
A one-off taco meal kit created by Cuan Greene inspired by his time working at the Noma pop-up in Mexico. It’s ¤60 for two people, and the seven courses include tostadas, taco al pastor and cajeta flan. Set your alarm for 9am on Nov 2nd, when the offer goes live on Instagram, @cuangreene.

Green Man Wine
Terenure, Dublin 6W, click and collect, Friday and Saturday, greenmanwines.ie
With a new pantry section, Green Man Wines is now doing a €30 Lockdown Loaded Up meal and wine kit, with a recipe and ingredients for dishes like Italian sausage and bean casserole paired with a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo €40. Cheese and charcuterie feast boxes are also available.

Grow HQ
Waterford city; click and collect daily, 8.30am-6pm; grow-hq.com
It’s easy to get your five a day with this keenly priced click and collect shopping list of (mostly) veggie goodness, which includes soups, mezze, quiches, root vegetable curry, falafel, lamb burgers and vegan options.

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