Square Bistro, 18 Lisburn Square, Lisburn. Tel: 028 92666677
Lisburn, the second biggest council area in Northern Ireland, has an affluent citizenship and as prosperous a city centre as any could have in the current circumstances. Yet it has never become a culinary destination like Derry/Londonderry, Enniskillen or Newry.
All three have at least two or three excellent restaurants. Lisburn has Square Bistro. There are some good cafes and bar restaurants including the attractive Speckled Hen whose chicken Swiss burger according to close advisers is a must, but if you're looking for some next level quality Irish food, that's it.
Luckily, the pandemic has not put the lights out in Square Bistro's kitchen and the take-home dinner kits are proving to be a big hit among those foodies who like to get involved in this kind of thing. Not a naturally gifted cook, I initially tended to steer away from the DIY dinner kits going instead for the fully prepared, boil in a bag or stick in the oven meals which many restaurants are offering.
But when you're a chef of Steve Higgins's calibre, your concern is the quality of the finished product and we all know how much those finished products can suffer in transit from the kitchen to your house.
Square's choice of two boxes - the Signature Box 1 (£30pp) and the Earlybird Box 2 (£20pp for two courses or £25pp for three courses) - each containing a meal for two, includes dishes which require varying degrees of treatment.
For instance Box 2 which featured a main course of beef stroganoff with rice only involved a visit to the microwave.
Box 1, however, featuring pork fillet, serrano ham, apple puree, savoy cabbage, cider cream and champ, required me to go through an 11-step process before plating up (Chef Higgins is very particular about this and offers a further six-step guide to plating up properly).
Many might baulk at this but you have to treat this almost as a cookery class. Same goes for Hadskis, Mourne Seafood Bar and all the other quality restaurants which are not going to risk their reputations by sending you soggy chips and instead give you all the tools and ingredients and clear instructions on how to achieve an almost-restaurant quality standard.
You have to embrace the challenge, accept the fact that you're paying close to restaurant prices and doing half the work yourself, and get on with it because, believe me, it's worth it.
The looks on those wee faces around the dinner table, the awe and adoration in which you are now held and the joy you bring to the household will be ample reward for the financial investment and time commitment.
The salt and chilli prawns starter are an explosive start to the evening.
A few minutes in the oven, the crisped up prawns are ready to sit on the rich satay sauce you've heated in the saucepan and to which have been added grilled hearts of lettuce and crushed nuts.
It's a delightful mix of textures and flavours, unctuous and reassuringly luxurious. Here already you realise the price is more than fair.
The pork fillet, wrapped in serrano ham is seared for a few minutes in the frying pan until golden brown before going into the oven for eight to ten minutes giving you time to sort out the champ and other bits and pieces in water baths and microwave.
Again the quality is outstanding and deep wintry flavours are heart warming and joyful.
In parallel, I've been microwaving the stroganoff and rice with no issue other than timing with the rest of the microwaveables. A second or third microwave in the kitchen might have helped but instead, some canny timing and keeping things warm in the oven see us through.
A final hit of posset with berry compote and crunchy, brittle candied almonds rounds off the meal successfully and we all agree we'll do that again.
Or at least, have me do it.
Square Bistro Signature box 1 (3 courses) £60
Early Bird box 2 (3 courses) £50
Order during the week by texting 07391 676467. Collect Saturday between 2 and 3pm.