Recipe boxes are all the rage. Designed for busy people who don’t actually want to go to London restaurants every night and don’t mind a bit of cooking (they provide a recipe and raw ingredients, leaving you to do the prep), they now come in all shapes, sizes and budgets and range from organic and healthy food boxes to quick-win recipe kits. So we taste-tested five of the best recipe boxes and food subscriptions going.
Top five recipe boxes in London
Best for the culinarily challenged: Abel & Cole
The dish: Balsamic steak and pepper caponata
First impressions: The box is filled with fresh, organic ingredients but we can’t help but feel slightly disappointed to find a couple of small minute steaks, which aren’t exactly the juicy slabs of meat we’d hoped for, especially as they’re being served with – shock horror – chickpeas, instead of chips.
The cooking: The recipe cards are well-designed, with step-by-step instructions and a breakdown of the timings by cooking, prep and ‘hands-on’ time, as well as what equipment you’ll need. And unlike some recipes, which claim to be quick (we’re looking at you, ‘Jamie's 15 Minute Meals’), the timings are spot on.
The verdict: The recipes are easy to follow and don’t involve too much time in the kitchen, but you might want more from a steak dinner.
‘Simple’ box contains three meals for two people. £36. Also available: ‘Foodie’, ‘Light’ and ‘Veggie’ options. www.abelandcole.co.uk
Best for kitchen connoisseurs: Marley Spoon
The dish: Thai salmon fish cakes
First impressions: Having all your ingredients prepackaged in exact portions is a little odd. As well as a fillet of organic salmon and the obligatory brown paper bag of muddy vegetables, there’s also sachets of Hellman’s mayo and tiny packets of butter, like you’d get in a Wetherspoons. Nigella would not approve.
The cooking: Making the fishcakes is quite timeconsuming, although the instructions are clear and include a step-by-step picture guide. The process is made slightly more stressful by the fact that we mistakenly assumed they’d sent all the ingredients needed, and had to dash out mid-cooking to panic-purchase some eggs to avoid having to pass off our fishcakes as ‘deconstructed’.
The verdict: A bit complicated if you usually give the kitchen a wide berth, but the end result looks pretty damn fancy – just make sure you’ve buried the evidence of the ‘Spoons-style sachets in the bin.
Twoperson box contains two meals for two people. £34. Also available: Family box, £48 for two meals. Choose from two, three or four meals for all boxes. www.marleyspoon.co.uk
Best for those on a (bit) of a budget: Gousto
The dish: Pear and blue cheese pork
First impressions: Unlike most of the other boxes, Gousto offers delivery slots on Saturdays, which means we don’t have to worry about someone nicking our dinner off our doorstep – always a bonus.
The cooking: The total prep and cooking takes slightly less than the designated 40 mins – either they’ve over-estimated or we’re destined for a slot on ‘Saturday Kitchen Live’. Either way, the recipe seems fairly idiotproof.
The verdict: This one gets bonus points for being the cheapest of the lot, as well as one of the easiest to make. Even if your idea of cooking usually involves boiling pasta and dousing it in pesto, you should be able to manage this without cocking it up.
Contains two meals for two people. £27.49. Also available: one, two, three or four meals for two or four people. www.gousto.co.uk
Best for clean-eaters: Mindful Chef
The dish: Baked salmon with homemade pesto and aubergine ratatouille
First impressions: On opening the box, it’s clear the folks at Mindful Chef aren’t big on carbs. Not being on a diet, we chose to supplement our meal with a side of rice.
The cooking: The most time-consuming part is making the pesto, which involves a lot of fine chopping – tough if your knife skills aren’t exactly chef-standard. But at least the recipe doesn’t assume you have a food processor.
The verdict: Carb-lovers will be left wanting, but for figure-watchers this serves as a more satisfying alternative to a dull low-fat ready meal.
Classic box contains two meals for two people. £28. Also available: vegbased boxes. Choose from meals for one person, two people or four people. www.mindfulchef.com
Best for die-hard foodies: Riverford
The dish: Roast chicken and blood orange with fennel and olives
First impressions: The produce all comes from Riverford Farm in Devon, which means it’s way fresher than the supermarket alternative. It’s so fresh, in fact, that we even found a caterpillar amongst the greens. How’s that for bonus protein?
The cooking: This one is the most labour-intensive of the bunch, taking over an hour. It’s fine if you’ve got bags of time to mess about in the kitchen – but aren’t food boxes supposed to be for the time-poor?
The verdict: The ingredients are fresh and it shows, as – creepy crawlies aside – the end result is seriously tasty. But it does mean the service is less flexible as you can only get it delivered on your area’s designated day.
‘Original’ box contains two meals for two people. £29.95. Also available: up to three meals for two people, plus vegetarian and ‘quick’ boxes. www.riverford.co.uk
Fancy slightly more indulgent food delivered to your door?
Food delivery can get a bad rep, but there's no need to scoff at it. Treating yourself can mean splashing out on a rooftop cocktail, munching through a massive steak, buying a new outfit or boozing your way through a bottomless brunch, but some days the thing we most want is to put on pyjamas, curl up on the sofa and eat a delicious dinner out of little plastic containers. This is our guide to London restaurants which can truly deliver the goods, as chosen by food experts and Time Out staff who really know their takeaways.