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Sous Chef review

Ruth Allan tries out a new concept in takeaways: you do the cooking

Published on April 14th 2009.

Sous Chef review

Friends often mention kitchen jobs to me in conversation. They’ll say things like, “You know, so and so, he’s sous chef at The Lowry,” which is a shame, because I have no idea what they’re on about. So before reviewing a new take-away in West Didsbury called Sous Chef, I thought it was time to find out.

Focusing my enquiries on the ‘sous’ position, I discovered that this job is part of a system called ‘La Brigade de Cuisine’ which was invented by French foodie Auguste Escoffier at the start of the last century. According to Escoffier’s rules, sous chef is second-in-command in the kitchen and, as such, is capable of managing hot-headed staff and mental customers, and taking over when the head chef goes AWOL.

It’s an apt name for this new Didsbury outlet. For starters, it sounds upmarket – well, more upmarket than The Baths Supper Bar or The Codfather at any rate – and playing sous chef is exactly what this joint does. When you buy a meal here, you are the head chef while the takeaway crew do the hard work for you.

The concept works like this.

1. Arrive at spotlessly white Sous Chef store on Burton Road with a hunger on.
2. Buy a meal which is nearly made, and take it away in a posh carrier bag.
3. Finish the cooking process at home, following the simple instructions included.

Coming at you like an expensive ready-meal, the concept is a good ‘un and my friend Mike and I found the new outlet with little trouble.

I haven’t spent much time in Didsbury since the early noughties, and looking around, I noticed that the food and drink outlets in this area have reproduced. You can get Nepalese, vegetarian, modern British, Italian, whatever tickles your taste buds in these southern parts. But Sous Chef manages to offer something different to the rest with its unique concept and menu of contemporary pub favourites.

Lamb shank with organic mash, rare breed steak and kidney pie, and root vegetable Thai curry are all offered on the takeaway’s big, chalky blackboard. Aiming to test out its culinary panache, I went for Cheshire pork gyoza (£4), followed by fillet of sea bass with chips and a watercress salad (£10.50). Mike, meanwhile, opted for the smoked salmon and herb potato cake with lemon crème fraiche (£4.50) to start, and lamb shank pie (£10) as his main event.

Despite the fact that the independent wine shop Reserve is just around the corner, Sous Chef has a selection of wines in store to make life really easy. Displayed in a cabinet to the side of the main counter, it’s a solid offering, complete with handy little descriptions. Noting an emphasis on heavy-weight reds – Rioja Reserva Marques de la Concordia (£9.50), Kolibri Argentinian Malbec (£9.50) and so on – we went for the Wakefield Shiraz (Clare Valley, Australia, £10.50), which I thought looked like a goer. Spicy, with a raison-like intensity, if you like to be reminded that you’re drinking a juicy red all the way to the end of the bottle, this is one for you.

So far, so fun, but back in the car, I had second thoughts about the whole thing. Incapable of preparing anything except Ready Brek, dinner was set to be a challenge for both Mike and the cooking instructions. Would he be able to ‘pan fry the gyoza, pleat side up for three minutes’? I was starving, so I hoped so.

Back home, with a glass of shiraz and Primeval for company, I sat and worried.

Clatters and crashes emanated from the kitchen until Mike finally hailed me to the table, to find our starters in surprisingly good shape.

Taste-wise, the gyoza filling was both porky and spicy, but the pastry had the bitter twang of undercooking. I pointed this out, as I would do if I was reviewing food in a restaurant, and Mike looked hurt. The cooking process appeared to have made the ‘chef’ take ownership of the food we were eating, in a way that he wouldn’t have done if we’d just un-bagged a takeaway.

The salmon-topped potato cake was better; crispy and hot with a good chive-y flavour and smooth, cool dressing, which tasted like I wish shop-bought ‘ranch’ dressing would actually taste. Nice smattering of little herby leaves too.

‘I’d serve this if I wanted a chick to think I could cook,’ Mike said.

‘Good call,’ I said, ‘but what’s going to happen when the chick wants seconds?’

Mike returned, slightly crestfallen, to the kitchen to bring out the mains. Cooked with white wine, roast garlic and, unusually, rosemary, the sea bass looked enticing despite being served in a foil bag. The wedges were a bit over-done (I don’t know how much of this was prep, and how much was Mike) but the fish was excellent; elegant and floral in flavour and perfectly cooked too. Mike’s pie, meanwhile, came in its own glass dish (£1.50 deposit – a bit steep we thought), which was packed with hunks of juicy lamb, mash, carrot and rich, meaty flavours.

Unlike ‘home-made’ ready-meals from posh supermarkets, Sous Chef sells proper dinners, that look, taste, and appear to be home-made. Fakery comes at a price, of course. Charging double average takeaway prices for food that you’ve still got to cook at home is steep, but that’s not to say it isn't worth it.

Launched a couple of months back by Sean and Catherine Forster, this pair of former chartered accountants have no professional training. Instead, they’re driven by a passion for good, fast food, and – so far at least – they’re onto a winner. The whole experience was better than a lot of posh restaurant dinners I’ve had over the years and quicker than anything I could have whipped up in the same time too. Thumbs up.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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17 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Food loverApril 14th 2009.

I've just had a look at the website for this place and I'm with you all the way 'J'. £5 for a home-made chicken bourguignon using free range, locally sourced chicken and organic veg sounds ridiculous to me - infact it may even be illegal. I reckon J and I should buy some turkey twizzlers, and make big piles with all the money we've saved - who's with me?

EmApril 14th 2009.

I really don't get why you'd bother with all the hassle and washing up when you could go to a restaurant opposite or round the corner and get it all done for you...unless that is, a)you that you wanted a restaurant style meal but didn't want to dine out alone and had no one to invite with you b) you couldn't bear to miss (insert rubbish saturday night telly programme here) or c) if you could afford the restaurant meal but not a bottle of wine. Good concept but way too expensive when you have to DIY.

Burton_BabeApril 14th 2009.

Sous Chef is great for a trick (your mates into thinking you can cook) or a treat (for yourself, just because). I tried the Thai Green Curry a couple of weeks ago and it was delicious. easy to prepare and by far one of the best Thai curries I've had for ages - restaurant, takeaway or otherwise.

JApril 14th 2009.

Exactly M30, hardly cardboard is it!! Plus they include the cooking instruction also!!

AnonymousApril 14th 2009.

me the misses and our 2 week old baby have just eaten our first meal from here and it wont be our last!! I understand what people are saying about the price but M&S have never done anything nearly as good as the 2 dishes we had and a tenner for seabass chips and salad of this quality isnt bad value in my book

BenApril 14th 2009.

I think some are missing the point thats a far easier way for people who enjoy cooking to be able to create dishes they wouldn't usually have the confidence to make. Obviously taste and quality is crucial, but for me - it's the experience as a package and definately worth the money. Plus - unlike ready meals it doesnt taste like cardboard

JApril 14th 2009.

After checking out the menu I think it is definately a rip off!You can get the majority of the menu for at least half the price either to stick straight in the oven or already cooked and ready to eat!!

M30April 14th 2009.

Alternatively, Marks & Spencer are doing a 3 course meal deal with wine for £10 this weekend. It never fails to impress.

JApril 14th 2009.

I really don't see the point. You might as well enjoy the experience of dining out! Rip off if you ask me.

JApril 14th 2009.

Ben, I'd rather start from scratch and do it myself...learn by my mistakes.Oh and not all ready meals taste of cardboard do they, unless you buy cheap! But I can say that at the higher end of the market, they are still half the price.My point is though, why would I pay those prices and use my resources to heat it up etc. when I can get it for cheaper and everything be done for me! Sorry but If I'm going to cook then I'll want all the credit thank you!

nessiebeeApril 14th 2009.

Sous Chef is fantastic! We've had a few meals from them now and every one of them has been top quality. They do a range of meals at different prices, midweek dishes at £5 as well as the dishes described in the review. The service is excellent and they deliver when they say they will! Everything is beautifully presented and the cooking instructions are really easy to follow. Unlike other takeaway food each dish comes with an ingredients and full nutritional breakdown so you know exactly what you are eating. This place deserves to do well - innovative concept, great food and great service. Good luck Sous Chef!

AnonymousApril 14th 2009.

This stuff is probably a bit better than McDonalds though J

AnonymousApril 14th 2009.

get a cookbook and do it yourselves loosers! Its a shepherds pie for gods sake. My mum could make a better one for about £6 and feed 4 people. This is why I hate Didsbury. More money than sense.

BenApril 14th 2009.

It's a fantastic idea - if, like me - you enjoy cooking but aren't ever adventurous enough to try something more elaborate then this is great! I had a look over their menu online and there's some really fab dishes to try

BenApril 14th 2009.

Well I guess I'm just the kind of guy with no qualms about cheating in order to made good quality cuisine...maybe a few cooking classes would be in order? ha! In any case, I realise that some ready meals can taste ok, but eventually it all just ends up tasting the same.

New parentApril 14th 2009.

I think it's a good idea for couples with babies. They can still get restaurant quality food but minimise the hassle of going out.

JApril 14th 2009.

Ben, I hardly ever eat ready meals myself as I'd much rather eat fresh food but if you cannot cook or want to cheat then you can do it much cheaper! We are in a recession afterall and I just think their prices are ridiculous! You pay less in a restaurant in some cases!

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