It’s no longer safe to shop or mix with others while infections remain relatively high and deaths hover around the 300 mark.
While the story of Covid-19 has been pushed from our front pages by the war in Ukraine, we ought not to imagine it’s over for everyone. It’s far from that.
And yet the green shoots are emerging, not least in hospitality. Having endured a torrid time with on-off closures and with staff leaving in droves, gradually things are starting to normalise.
Restaurants are busy as they try to make sense of the issues – fewer chefs, front of house staff and spiralling prices for ingredients – in addition to fielding energy bills that have gone through the roof.
People want to eat out again, though it’s a stretch to afford that and hospitality remains on the front line.
The story of what happens when a restaurant faces a pandemic is a remarkable one, of course. It’s been chartered by Australian chef-restaurant-owner Alexis Noble, who owns Wander.
With an ever-changing menu designed to share, that adapts daily depending on the availability of produce, guests wander through the inspiration from the Wander team’s recent travels, food memories and delicious experiments.
A key element to Wander is the detail, from specially commissioned artwork by Lucia Fraser, to carefully curated Wander Spotify playlists – including favorite artists such as Massive Attack, Kanye West, PJ Harvey, The Internet.
Wander’s food is clever, detailed and bold; making it a quintessential casual fine-dining restaurant.
And in the Wander At Home box meal, diners can enjoy such delights while also swotting up on a typical restaurateur’s story.
Noble self-published a book, Wander At Home, having been forced to close his restaurant in Spring 2020. Like so many, he created an at-home delivery service and his book tells the story of how he adapted over the two years of the pandemic, from the first closure in March 2020 till the (hopefully final) Omicron wave in January 2022 and all the openings, closings, tears and takeaway boxes in between.
Whilst the book is primarily a cookbook that chronologically recreates some of the dishes that were part of WAH menus over the course of the pandemic, it also includes stories associated with that time, as well as the things Alexis learnt along the way whilst transitioning from a restaurant to a production kitchen and retail operation. It highlights the way small businesses supported and learned from each other as their operations slowly evolved over the various stages of the pandemic.
Self-published by Alexis Noble with the help of a successful Crowdfunder, like all things Wander, it is a deeply personal and very DIY book that was 100% created in the UK over the three months where Wander was forced to close due to immigration issues .
Wander at Home was always about adapting, pivoting and surviving and Alexis feels it was quite fitting to have created this book as a way to get her business through such a challenging time.
The back story, then, is deeply impressive. As is the delivery. Wander at Home is available from Dishpatch, the leading UK delivery service that includes Tom Kerridge, Angela Hartnett, Jose Pizarro and Michel Roux Jr among its impressive roster.
The delivery was efficient, the food well-packaged and the food a curious mix of Aussie-meets-England-meets-Europe. Put more simply, it was divine.
The starter was a cheap and cheerful Vegemite garlic bread. An old-school starter, what it lacked in finesse it made up for with flavor. The big, bold, umami-rich flavors of Vegemite and the gentler garlic seasoning were enveloped in a rich butter that was served on crisp, crusty baguette. It may not have been pretty, but it tasted delicious.
Alexis grew up in Australia, and after working at a number of high-end restaurants in Sydney, the allure of travel captured her. She traveled extensively through America, Asia and Europe – researching, experiencing, and enjoying. It was on a trek with her dad in Bhutan that Alexis realized she wanted to open Wander in London and her menu is clearly inspired by those travels.
The food is an expression of Alexis’ journey, connections and hard work.
So a deliciously fresh and healthy starter of burrata with cherry tomato, wild garlic and caperberry was bursting with life – and echoes of the UK and Europe. The burrata was deliciously creamy, the wild garlic located the dish in the here and now while the cherry tomato was sweet and delicious.
A baby gem salad with Wander at Home dressing was similarly seasonal. Light, mixing bitter leaves and herbs with a delicately acidulated dressing, it was simple stuff that packed a flavorsome punch.
The main was a dish of roast chicken with fermented peppers and potatoes. The chicken was tender while the fermented peppers combined sweet, piquant and gently acidulated flavor. Served alongside the salad, it made for happy eating.
Dessert was magnificent – and another dish that chimed with the seasons.
A rhubarb pavola featuring a meringue that was crisp and sugary on the outside and mallowey and soft within.
It was served with a tart rhubarb and strawberry mix, which was sharp and sweet. An indulgent cream finished the dish and made for a fine conclusion.
Dinner was homely. There was no razzle dazzle nor attempt to engage in any gastronomic tricks. Instead, Alexis’ food focused on simple, bold flavors that were as comforting as a hug.
The best thing, of course, was the collection of over 75 recipes that both told her story of how a small restaurant survives a pandemic while also providing inspiration for future dinners.