When I was 22 I went to Paris with no particular plan other than to enjoy the city, learn the language, eat good food and enjoy the art. It was January and it was cold and I still remember my first warming meal.
I was staying in the 5th arrondissement, very close to Notre Dame, and I set off in search of real French food. I found an idyllic little place on the corner of a cobbled street with tables out front. It being January, I sat inside, ordered and was soon brought a glass of very good red wine and a bowl of French onion soup.
It’s a memory that sticks with me. One that has reared its beautiful head many times over the past year as I longed to return to the Paris I remembered when it was, of course, impossible. And so when I tried a Bistrot at Home food box there was only one option for me, the Classic Bistrot Box: French onion soup, beef bourguignon and sticky toffee pudding with crème Chantilly.
It had been 25C in the day, but while the weather was a bit different to my winter in Paris, I was ready to enjoy a taste of France in my own flat and I wasn't disappointed.
Bistrot at Home has multiple box themes including “date night” and vegetarian, and ordering for delivery was easy enough. On Friday morning the box arrived at my door along with a bottle of Don David Reserve Malbec 2019.
More affordable than some food boxes on offer – a three-course Classic Box for two will set you back £40 – I was expecting the difference in quality would be noticeable but it simply wasn’t.
The box arrived with less flourish than others I have tried but was packaged well and was easy enough to understand and heat up. A lot less faffing around than some, that is for certain. We found that we had to heat most of the items longer than the stated time to get it to an edible temperature, but that wasn’t too much of a problem.
The French onion soup was rich and sweet and took me straight back to Paris and the little restaurant in the 5th arrondissement. French onion soup can, on occasion and even in Paris, be watery, but this was perfectly thick, and the bread crouton and cheese completed the dish. It was easy to pull off: simply cook the baguette in the oven and put the soup in a pan on the hob. I could have easily had another bowl immediately after the first.
The beef bourguignon was also easy to deliver. The pomme purée is warmed in a pan until it is as smooth as you'd expect from a restaurant, and it tasted like it too. Meanwhile the beef, carrots and bourguignon sauce went in the oven at 200C No thrills, but plenty of flavour.
The standout of the meal was the bourguignon sauce, which was deep, rich and a little fruity. It was up there with the best I’ve had. The beef, while the flavour was good and the cut was fine, was slightly dry. I prefer slow cooked beef to melt, but this wasn’t quite there and just a tad tough.
And finally, sticky toffee pudding. OK, French doesn’t spring to mind when I think of sticky toffee pudding but it was a wonderfully sweet ending, with the melted toffee sauce pooling at the bottom of the bowl and served with a refreshing crème Chantilly, which was light and fluffy.
The word that clearly springs to mind from this meal is “rich”, but that’s what makes so much of French food great. The red wine complimented this well.
In this weather I can’t help but feel like I should have gone for the vegetarian box, which included a vegetable tagine as a main, and may have been the right choice for the heat, but I just couldn’t resist the chance to eat like I was back in Paris once more.