Sometimes you need a helping hand on date night and no, I’m not talking about introducing a third person. I’m talking about easy to cook ready meals, specifically of the Marks & Spencer’s Gastropub variety.
Regardless of who you’ve got coming over for dinner, come Friday night do you really want to be panic chopping vegetables and scouring your cupboards for an integral spice you really thought you had? Or would you rather throw something in the oven and spend that time showering and mixing yourself a drink? Yeh, I thought so.
But the problem with ready meals is that they can be: one, vile and, two, on the steep side pricewise – so, you want to be sure yours will deliver. M & S’s Gastropub line, an upmarket range of British classics popular as part of a £ 12 Dine In for Two deal, has long been hailed as being able to do so. However, having recently been relaunched with a number of new items and revamped recipes, this MyLondon writer wondered, how about now?
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Cheese Rarebit and Ham Crumpets
Ham and cheese on crumpets may be nothing new as a little ol ‘snack for many but what about as a starter for a fancy night-in? One of five new additions to the relaunched M&S Gastropub line, the Cheese Rarebit and Ham Crumpets was one of the items that intrigued me the most.
The upgraded version consists of sourdough crumpets along with mature Cheddar cheese, beer-glazed ham and some undisclosed green herbs. Both ham and cheese were shredded – the former less finely than the latter – and sprinkled on top a bed of creamy, cheesy melted sauce.
It had a wonderful, comforting scent as it came out the oven, the bottom and rims of the crumpet nicely crisped. The sauce was a little too piping hot and plentiful for me but after scraping a bit off, I concluded the whole thing was delicious and a fun starter that walked the line between cozy and inventive.
Price: £ 4
Mac ‘N’ Cheese Bombs
I wanted to love the Mac ‘N’ Cheese Bombs, another new starter, I really did. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if I was drunk I could destroy both with joy and ferocity – but sober, it felt too much, too rich, too wrong somehow.
Each of the ‘bombs’ is roughly the size and weight of a Scotch egg. However, while the golden brown bread-crumbed exterior rings true, the inside is filled instead with teeny tiny rings of pasta and a mozzarella-based white sauce that’s slightly off-putting to look at. Poke your fork in and the stodgy mixture stretches (note: not oozes) like a half set marshmallow Rice Krispie mix.
In contrast to the textural variety of shell and interior – which was confusing but also intriguing – the taste was more one-dimensional. My favorite part was the smoky chipotle BBQ sauce, which is delicious and worthy of a solo product.
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Price: £ 4
Chargrilled Chicken, King Prawn & Chorizo Paella
If I could only eat one item out of all the items reviewed here it would be the Chargrilled Chicken, King Prawn & Chorizo Paella, which is back with a new recipe. Every item in the mix more than pulled its weight, from the succulent, gently charred chicken chunks to the rich, spiced tomato sauce and the peas, popping in your mouth with freshness.
Also in its favor was how easy it is to cook. All that’s needed to have it come out perfectly cooked and packed with flavor is stabbing some holes in the plastic film and shoving it in the oven. That is really it. (Although, pro tip: we put it back in for about three more minutes without the film to let things crisp up a tiny bit more and, chef’s kiss.)
Nor was it just me that was blown over by this dish. My dining companion has sampled many a chicken, prawn and chorizo paella – including Tesco Finest, Sainsbury’s and homemade – and said this was the best. It’s love.
Price: £ 10.50
Chocolate Melt in the Middle Puddings
Chocolate fondants are a God tier British pudding and M & S’s version certainly doesn’t sully this reputation. After 20 minutes of baking, it came out the color of a Black Forest Gateau, plump and round like a Friar’s bowl cut. To touch, it was spongy and a little wobbly, but sturdy enough to hold its shape while flipped over onto its bottom with the assistance of a plate.
Once a spoon was applied gently to the surface, out burst a lighter brown chocolate sauce the color of roasted hazelnut skins. Creamier in color and texture than the exterior, it was delightfully liquid, thank goodness – is any disappointment equal to a chocolate fondant that doesn’t fondant? – and not so hot as to burn your tongue if eaten immediately.
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Price: £ 4
Of the four items I sampled of the new and improve Gastropub range, there was more hit than miss, with the Mac ‘N’ Cheese balls the only thing I wouldn’t get again (too bland, too stodgy). Both the Chicken, Chorizo and Prawn Paella and Chocolate Melt in the Middle Puddings, meanwhile, scored full marks for being as delicious as they were easy breezy. Though a little saucy for me, the Rarebit and Ham Crumpet was a fun, tasty starter. (I certainly never thought the humble crumpet could make an appropriate date-night snack but hey, it turns out it can be fancy if it wants to be.)
An important caveat is that most of these items are pretty pricy on their own, so definitely best purchased in M&S’s £ 12 Dine In for Two deal (one main, one starter or dessert, one side) or else Ocado’s M&S £ 10 Dinner for 2 (main, side, dessert), which runs until May 17 2022. But then, I liked the paella and chocolate fondants so much I’d probably pay the full price for them too.
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