Get your hands on a 5-course takeaway Christmas dinner for £15 in Ipswich
- Credit: Archant
The meal includes canapes and petit fours –and you’ll never guess where it’s from.
Last weekend I tucked into probably one of the most bargainous Christmas feasts in Suffolk. At only £15 for three courses to heat at home, plus canapes and petit fours, the meal was a steal – even more impressive when I took into consideration it had been prepared by students.
Chefs’ Whites at Suffolk New College was due to open in September as a fine dining establishment, showcasing the skills of the catering students, and replacing what was Shelley’s. Current restrictions have meant dining-in isn’t possible at the moment, but the department has pushed on, creating a raft of ‘heat at home’ meals – including a festive extravaganza - which can be collected over the next few weeks from a socially distanced point at the college on Rope Walk, Ipswich.
“This is a way of staying in touch with our customers, and so far we’ve had a great response,” says Mike Mulvihill, who joined Suffolk New College as director of service industries earlier this year. “In addition to providing this Christmas cook at home service, students get to learn new skills based around festive food, and looking ahead we can’t wait to welcome people into our new restaurant in 2021. As soon as we get the go-ahead from the government and the college we will be ready for a big launch.”
“We have been able to work different ingredients,” adds 17-year-old student Lewis Hood from Ipswich. “We’ve got a nice little menu set up and we can’t wait for people to try the goods. The restaurant also looks great in terms of a rebrand. There is a really professional air about the place and it’s exciting to be cooking for customers.”
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I picked up my Christmas meal for one with ease from the college. It was swiftly delivered once I’d arrived, masked up, and I was overwhelmed by the size of the packages – two whole bags, just for little old me!
When I got home and laid the contents out I was suitably impressed. The packs included clear, full instructions printed on thick card, and a veritable buffet of tubs, packages and cartons (many compostable or recyclable) containing all the elements I needed to cook up a storm with (jingle) bells on.
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There are three options for each course including chicken and ham terrine with pickled wild mushrooms, focaccia crisp and basil emulsion, salmon en croute with dill and lemon sauce and crushed new potatoes, and gingerbread sticky toffee pudding with poached pear.
Looking through all the instructions, I worked out when to put the various elements in the oven for a good dining flow. My main course needed 25 to 30 minutes plus resting time, while the starter required just 12 minutes at a similar temperature.
Everything had been thought of, including foil packaging to cook the hot courses in – no washing up.
With the oven on the go, and a pan of water simmering waiting for the veg, I plated up the trio of canapes provided.
A tiny, crisp Yorkshire pudding filled with beef and a tasty dollop of horseradish, a very cheesy scone layered with piquant chilli jam, and punchy, salty bruschetta of focaccia topped with a well-balanced salsa. All tasty and a sign of good things to come.
To follow was smoked haddock on wilted watercress with a gruyere sauce and granary crumbs. All I had to do was squeeze over the cheese sauce and bake the fish in its tray, wilting the greens in a pan at the last minute, giving a final flourish of crunch with the crumbs.
A truly delicious plate of food. Nutty, savoury, slightly sweet gruyere is bold enough to stand up to smoked fish without detracting from its oaky flavour. A classic done well.
The main course was a stonker and actually could have fed two. An oven-baked turkey ballotine, stuffed with a lemony pork mince farce and wrapped in pancetta, was served with buttery mash, cranberry jus, and a mixture of seasonal vegetables (including sprouts of course) in herb butter – all the accompaniments handily ready after a five minute ‘bath’ in boiling water so I didn’t have to faff about with multiple pans.
This ticked all the boxes for me. There wasn’t even a hint of dryness about the turkey. The stuffing was tremendous – tender and rammed with flavour. The mash was smooth as you like. All the veg were al dente, with a ribbon of aniseedy tarragon running through their butter. And the gravy, well, I knew it was going to be good when I saw it wibbling in the package – the sign of a proper stock made with bones. It was savoury, a touch sweet, and lip-smackingly delicious, infused with port, red wine and Madeira. Wow.
For dessert, a millionaire’s tart of crisp pastry, lightly salted caramel, and baked chocolate mousse, served with garnishes of edible gold (which got gasps of delight from my kids), a chocolate twist, and clotted cream. Perfection in every way.
Stuffed, I saved the petit fours of mini Christmas pudding and rum truffle for nibbling later on in front of the latest episode of I’m A Celebrity.
If I hadn’t known these dishes were cooked by college students, there’s no way I would have been able to tell, and I would happily have paid to sit and eat every element in a professional restaurant. All their techniques and flavours were on point, and the experience filled me with hope for the next generation of chefs being released into Suffolk’s kitchens.
You can try the meal for yourself by ordering online, by calling on 01473 382500 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Meals can be collected Monday to Friday, 10.30am to 4pm.I definitely give them my stamp of approval.