Saturday, 1 March 2014

COOK Glasgow - Review

The other day, on my way home from work, I decided to make a slight detour in order to check out a brand new addition to Glasgow's food scene. No, I wasn't on my way to some chic new cafe or restaurant, I was about to go and buy a frozen ready meal. Yup, you heard that right! But this was not just any frozen ready meal - oh no, this was a ready meal with a conscience, a ready meal free from preservatives and artificial nasties, and lovingly prepared "at home". This was a ready meal from COOK Glasgow.

COOK opened its Glasgow branch at 498 Great Western Road just last week, but I was surprised to hear that it is actually a very successful chain, with branches across England and Wales, and one as close to home as Edinburgh. I'll admit that I'd never heard of it.

The concept is simple - the meals are prepared using the same ingredients, techniques and equipment that you would if you were preparing these meals yourself, at home. There are no artificial flavourings, colourings or preservatives to be found here, and these are meals made by real people, not a production line of machines in a factory - the name of the cook is even proudly displayed on the packaging. I was lucky enough to speak to David, one of the Glasgow shop's owners, who told me more about the business. He explained that COOK has its kitchen (see, not 'factory'!) in Kent, where all the meals are made. These are then frozen and transported around the country to the various COOK shops. The kitchen, he told me, is as close to a larger version of the one in your home as possible (maybe a restaurant kitchen is a better comparison), and they even offer tours of it to the public. So if you're local to Kent, why not go and have a look for yourself? (And then comment to tell me about it!)

Now, much as I love to cook and therefore don't normally buy frozen ready meals, I found this shop pretty inspirational. Firstly, it made me question my primary reason for not buying ready meals - is it because I enjoy cooking? Well yes, that's definitely part of it. Is it because I worry about the artificial ingredients? Yes, again, that's part of the reason I don't really like ready meals. But perhaps the main reason for me, is that ready meals just don't taste that good! So I was curious - would COOK's ready meals deliver on the taste front? I'll come to that in just a minute.

Secondly, I love the concept. It's a great idea - a ready meal that's just as good for you as a home-cooked one; in fact it's so good, I wish I'd come up with it myself. And the branding is lovely. The shop feels very upmarket, yet friendly. It certainly doesn't feel like you've stepped into Iceland or Farmfoods, that's for sure. It feels like a shop that cares about your health and the pleasure of eating good food. A shop that is enjoyable to visit. And if you can't visit, they do home delivery too.

Look - they do puddings too!
Having read about the concept in advance, I had been concerned that the prices might be ridiculously high, but I was pleased to discover I was wrong. Now I won't lie: that is not to say that this is the shop to go to for a bargain; it's not. But given we are looking at hand-made food that ticks all the right health boxes, I would have expected to potentially pay a higher premium. One-serving ready meals ranged in price from £2.99 to £4.99. Now as far as I could see, for curries and the like, you have to buy your rice separately (or cook your own), but other than that, I think those prices are probably comparable with the higher-end supermarket brands.

The vegetarian section
I did a quick price comparison online for macaroni cheese. COOK's macaroni cheese costs £2.99, which I think represents great value. A quick virtual look around the supermarkets confirmed that prices certainly vary, but also that you can easily pay more than this for a slightly nicer brand of supermarket macaroni cheese, or around about the same for a standard one. Certainly, you can pay less (Asda Smart Price offers a 71p macaroni cheese, for those who are ready meal-shopping on a budget), but that wouldn't really be comparing like with like. And actually, I'd be willing to bet that even the supermarket luxury brands still have the e numbers and strange ingredients that you know you won't find in COOK's products, so even they are not really a like for like comparison. But they're as good as you get.

I found there to be a good range of vegetarian fare, and, not surprisingly, these were mainly at the lower end of the price range. I plumped for an Indonesian Vegetable Curry to take home and try out. I heated it up in the mircowave according to packet instructions (adding a little extra time to allow for the fact that my microwave is a lower wattage model), and served it with cous cous. I have to say, I was very impressed. This is a meal that really tastes fresh and delicious - all the flavours were there, and I'll admit, I would have been extremely pleased with my efforts if I'd just cooked it from scratch. The benefit to not having cooked it from scratch is, of course, less washing up! Which is always a bonus. I was pleased to find that my initial good impressions were right - this is a company that really delivers what it says it will.

In summary then, overall I really loved COOK. I loved the passion that all of the staff showed when talking about their brand (special thanks to David for taking the time to really explain the concept and talk me through the brand in a bit more detail). For me, this is a brand that works, and a great addition to Glasgow's west end. Do I see myself shopping here on a regular basis? Probably not, no, as I really do enjoy cooking, as evidenced by this blog! So I'm rarely looking for ready meals. But would I recommend it? Definitely.

I am probably not the shop's target demographic - I am not a busy parent, concerned about what my kids are eating; I'm not working such long hours that I don't have time to cook; I don't have a horrible commute that means I get home too late to cook; and I'm not someone who can't cook or doesn't enjoy cooking. And despite thinking that the brand offers good value for money, it will never compare with the value you get when you shop around for bargain ingredients and cook everything from scratch yourself, as I do; it simply can't. But to all of my friends and readers who are pressed for time but care about their health, and want their food to taste good and be of high quality, I say - please check out COOK! Go there and see (and taste) for yourself what it has to offer! Because, even after all I have said about my love of cooking, there are definitely going to be some days when the thought of someone else doing the cooking for me will be too hard to resist. And when those days come around, I know I'll be heading straight to COOK.

Have you tried COOK's meals? What do you think?

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