It’s impossible to get a table at Core by Clare Smyth because of the coronavirus lockdown. But is it worth paying hundreds of pounds to get the three-Michelin-star restaurant’s food delivered at home?
That’s what I asked myself as I looked at my £400 ($550) bill for a Core at Home meal last week. Many people think it’s worth a try. The restaurant is selling about 400 servings of the menu across the three days it’s open during each two-week period. The high base price (£350 for two) can quickly escalate, with a £20 delivery charge, an extra cheese course at £30 per person (which I had), an optional wine pairing and the opportunity to splash out on caviar and truffles.
So what do you get for your money? Well, it’s a generous menu. Mine featured canapes including foie gras and caviar; poached Scottish langoustine; confit salmon; chicken in a Champagne and truffle sauce; an apple pre-dessert; and a chocolate dessert; along with crusty sourdough bread and petits fours. It’s not the kind of food you could normally eat at home, at any price.
A bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne is included in the delivery.
Everything comes beautifully packaged and with two pages of cooking instructions. You also get an online tutorial of Clare preparing the food and another of “virtual waiters” — staff members talking you through the ingredients of dish. You’re assembling as much as cooking, so no need to feel intimidated. Tweezers are supplied.
The bar is set pretty high with the canapes, which include a mini-sandwich of buckwheat blinis with layers of chopped egg white and egg yolk, topped with caviar. All you need to do is add a dollop (or a quenelle, for the more ambitious) of caviar on top.
My first mistake came with the mini-bags in which the Scottish langoustines arrived. I happily snipped off the tops before bothering to read the instructions that the langoustines should be poached in the bags. Oh well. I kind-of floated the bags, which seemed to work, while warming a serving of rich bisque.
You mix up a small fennel salad with vinaigrette, placing it on the center of the plate, plop the langoustine on top, tweezer on a few herbs and spoon on the bisque. It was my favorite dish and I’d say high restaurant standard, even in my hands.
Well, I guess you don’t need a blow-by-blow account of the rest of the menu, though I did enjoy the confit salmon with a parsley-herb crust. And also the chicken with a truffle stuffing (poach in a bag for eight minutes) and served with pomme purée (warmed in a pan) that tasted like it was a mix of about 50% butter with the potato. It was so good.
The pre-dessert of caramelized apple in vanilla mousse, encased in an apple and cider-brandy jelly to resemble an apple, required no input from me. And the signature dessert of Core-teser (chocolate, malt, hazelnut, to taste like Maltesers confectionery) merely required a little tweezer work on decoration.
It was a very fine meal. But is it worth it?
Well, you are paying more than restaurant prices without some of the pleasures that come with dining out. I personally like to be fussed over a bit, to be addressed by my name, to have someone knowledgeable there to discuss the dishes and the options. I like a choice of food, I feel no urge to go into the kitchen and help out, and I definitely don’t want to do the washing up.
But during the lockdown, restaurants are not an option. For many diners, this kind of meal is the next best thing, and there’s no shortage of social-media posts attesting to how much people enjoy Clare’s menu. They get out their finest tableware and glasses for a luxury meal like no other.
You’re not paying hundreds of pounds for dinner so much as for an experience. OK, if you push me, I am going to say that I wouldn’t pay that kind of money. I am happy with my own cooking and for a special occasion like a birthday, I’d be more inclined to spend on fancy wines and ingredients and make my own fun. But many people love the experience, and good luck to them.
Richard Vines is Chief Food Critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and Instagram richard.vines.