I was seduced by the notion of Berry Bros & Rudd wines, plus the fact that the lovely WineSleuth would be matching those wines to Charlie Bigham’s food when accepting an invitation to what became hashtagged #Bighamsup – or Bigham’s Supper in Bermondsey. When I realised that Charley Bigham – pictured above – makes “ready meals”, I admit I slightly rolled my eyeballs and thought to myself (again) “Read the invitation more carefully next time.”
Denise had chosen a fantastic selection, and we debated the matching dish by dish. We concluded that neither the 2009 Gewurtztraminer or the Rioja Blanco were right for the punchy spice of the Thai Green Chicken Curry, but brought back the Au Bon Climat Wild Boy Chardonnay we’d tasted with the Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni, which was much more successful. So, to our surprise, was the food. The fish pie boasts chunks of salmon the size of your thumb, the Cannelloni is velvety smooth comfort food and the promsing spicy, peanut smell of the Indonesian Chicken Satay wafts gently up to you before your fork gets anywhere near it.
One of the difficulties that Bigham’s encounters is that ready meals have a pretty poor reputation. Their products are currently stocked in Waitrose and via Ocado which boded well, but I shop there and had never heard of them – or thought I hadn’t. We don’t tend to click on that category on Ocado or wander down that aisle. Maybe I’m a bit of a food snob – and I like to cook, obviously – but what really put me off is that ready meals are generally rubbish. Let’s be honest here. Whenever I’m desperate enough to resort to one, it almost always ends up in the bin in favour of toast or cereal. It was only when we talked to George and Charlie and ramekins came up in discussions that I suddenly said “We’ve had your pies before.”
Casting my mind back to an utterly miserable day in November, I’d wandered into Waitrose in Marylebone and on the first aisle, spotted some pies and a lasagne that were on sale. After a rubbish day I just wanted something to put in the oven (the boy may have whispered lasagne too – and then I’m just a sucker for nice ramekins frankly. Sigh) The lasagne comes in a wooden tray like a Camembert box and was… really rather good? Tasted quite… what’s the word? Homemade. That’s what it tasted like. The Chicken and Mushroom Pie was so moreish I seem to remember us arguing over who’d have the second one. I didn’t find the packaging memorable at all which was why I hadn’t made the connection. They need to brand their ramekins because I’ve kept and reused them which would have cemented their brand into my mind.
I loved the dishes we had on Tuesday, including their remarkably good Fish Pie. It’s certainly good enough to serve to guests, the kind of ‘I know you love me enough to not expect my kitchen to smell of fish for days just to make you a fish pie’ type of friends. I’ve since tried some more dishes at home (Breton Chicken good, not so keen on the Catalan Chicken) and the various pies are in the freezer for the weekend. Charlie Bigham’s meals are a genuinely good alternative to cooking totally from scratch, particularly the oven dishes, when you’re pushed for time or just can’t be bothered. Comforting food made from good quality ingredients. The kind of thing you’d expect to make at home, really.