By the time you read this, we may once again be allowed to eat in a restaurant; with certain safety provisos, naturally. Certainly for us it will be a welcome return to dining at someone else’s table, not that we haven’t enjoyed our year or so of takeaways. In fact, it has been a journey of culinary discovery.
An unexpected result of coronovirus has been the creation of an entire new genre of food – the takeaway tray. Tray food is characteristically hearty and rich; served hot with copious strong-flavoured sauces and lots of fried components. Where once chefs and servers would labour over the perfect plating and presentation of a meal, this part of the process is now left to the diner, and the exquisite touches of exotic garnish and table theatre are consigned to history. Salads and vegetables are often noticeably absent, or represented by grilled corn-on-the-cob or slaw (never coleslaw). The meals travel well – as they need to – retain their heat, and are usually supplied well-packaged in recyclable cardboard. Fundamental items include fast food favourites burgers, fries and fried chicken; but many variations have been created already and more seem likely.
This started early on in the pandemic with quality roast dinners and homely meals, translated by necessity from existing familiar menus by restaurants and particularly pubs. Whilst this continues, the concept has now expanded to stand alone. We are fairly sure that at least some of the dark kitchens that have popped up to supply the demand for the weekend tray meal will persist even when the eateries have reopened.
Lobster’s traditional place (once it has been forcibly removed from the sea) is as an expensive ingredient in the fanciest venues in town; displayed on a charger flanked by pea shoot taradiddles and anointed with garlic butter. Back in the day, lobster thermidor and its land-based cousin fillet steak were the byword for luxury dining.
So, can this prestigious fare really find an appropriate home in a carton? We’ve already enjoyed a very decent Isle of Wight fillet steak from East Cowes pop-up kitchen Flavour Trayz. But lobster? Surely a step too far? Only one way to find out.
Placing our order via Instagram (as is the modern way) we went to Newport to pick up our dinner from The Grill, previously operating as LRG Trays. Clearly their tray product has been a roaring success as this small team has already moved premises in a matter of months with aspirations of opening their own restaurant in Charter House as soon as regulations allow. Until then, we’ll have to go with the takeaway.
Back at home, Cat creaked open the polystyrene clamshell and gasped at the presentation of her lobster. Whereas her restaurant experience of this succulent crustacean has almost exclusively been a half-tail, here was a whole tail bisected with white flesh seductively on display. Twice as nice for the same price. But, despite the novelty of lobster, it was really the greens which had drawn her to make her selection from the sides on offer. Oh, how she has craved vegetables! And The Grill’s veg did not disappoint. Biting into a spear of local asparagus, char-grilled and seasoned to perfection, Cat involuntarily expelled a moan of delight. This was an exquisite way to eat her greens; both the asparagus and its companion purple-stem broccoli stole focus from the lobster. If only school dinners had included vegetables like these instead of that insipid flavourless white cabbage, boiled to death before being scraped uneaten into the pig bin.
Despite its street food presentation, this was a meal that Cat would have been happy to pay premium money for in a restaurant. Plenty of delicious veg, copious succulent garlicky lobster and a side of crunchy slaw to add variety to the vegetable medley. Frankly it would be hard to know how this could have been better.
IW grilled lobster tail £25
Boneless crispy chicken tenders £15
Boneless crispy chicken tenders were well-named. Gorgeously soft, four huge chunks of delicate chicken meat came swaddled in a spicy, southern-style crumby coating alongside buttered corn-on-the-cob seared under the grill. Four massive bang-bang prawns were similarly tender and full of flavour, and underneath the whole thing was a thick and cheesy smoky mac and cheese studded with chorizo chunks. Still hot and fresh when it arrived home on our table, this was a meal that made us realise what a travesty of food we have become accustomed to from big-chain takeaways.
Maybe we’re over-excited after months of eating from cartons, but we can’t overstate how much pleasure we got from a generous tray of Isle of Wight lobster, asparagus and char-grilled broccoli. No, fried chicken does not have to be bland. Yes, take-outs can include fabulous vegetable options. And no, we don’t have to put up with the golden starches any more when local talent such as The Grill is on hand to feed us.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Actual proper lobster
- Takeaway style, restaurant quality
- Good online service