Saturday, 28 February 2015

Deluxe Beef Bourguignon Pies

Price: £2.49

Score (out of five): 4

Review: I happily bought these after we enjoyed the Chicken and Chorizo Pies and they also came recommended from a friend.

Just like the chicken pies, the pastry was excellent, with no soggy bottoms in sight. The filling was very meaty, probably more so than the chicken pies, with a very rich gravy. There was definitely enough filling to go with the gravy, so you didn't end up with mouthfuls of dry pastry at the end to eat.

The only issue is, I don't know what made it a beef bourguignon? The gravy had a vague taste of red wine to it, but basically it was just a really nice beef pie, and definitely worth £2.49. I served them with mash, purple sprouting, and the Valentine's wine I'd bought.

And this little bit of my kitchen is getting so much attention from this blog that it's now demanding a rider.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Chef Select Chili Con Carne

Price: £1.59 (I think - I didn't keep the receipt)

Score (out of five): 5

Review: I will be honest, it was with trepidation that I picked up my first Lidl chilled ready meal. I'm now used to the fact that their frozen food will vary from ok, to excellent, but ready meals can be done so, so very badly. Chilies are usually done spectacularly badly. Quite often they're bizarrely sweet and just not spicy enough if at all.

I think the photo says it all. I was very hungry when it came to eating it after coming home late after a pretty hardcore swimming session, but it was really nice. It was extremely meaty and clearly made with some good quality mince, and it was really spicy and in a nice way. They were not timid with their chili at all. 

The only bad points, and I won't mark them down for either of them, was the rice did end up being a solid block, but once I'd mixed the chili into it, it was fine. And also, it could've actually have done with being bulked out with a few more red kidney beans. But, I'm definitely buying this again. Might even get some to keep in the freezer. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

What Lidl get right and Tesco seem to get very wrong...

If you'd not guessed from this blog already, I have become slightly obsessive in my comparisons between supermarkets. If you read the business pages of the newspapers, you'll realise I'm not the only one - it seems the British have stopped being brand loyal and price competition is key. This is why Lidl and Aldi are doing so well and the "Big Four" are doing so poorly.

In my spare time I do like to do a bit of armchair retail punditry, so to break up the reviews of Lidl products, I thought I'd offer some of my thoughts. 

It took me a while to become a Lidl shopper. I got my fingers burnt when they still imported a lot of their stock from Germany. My flatmate and I used to jokingly call all their products "zwolf minuten" pizza/lasagna/chips etc. as everything seemed to take zwolf minuten to cook. Our other local supermarket was a big Scotmid that was spectacularly bad at stock control (leading to the hilarious evening meal of avocado and mini sausage rolls one night). Then I lived next a Waitrose for a few years. When I moved back to Leith, Scotmid was still open, and we'd shop there or drive to ASDA, Tesco or Sainsbury's. Then Scotmid sold their store to Tesco and I got my clubcard and was sold, happily brand loyal, for a while. 

I'd pop into Lidl every now and then for their Thursday random shite, and occasionally pick up other things and be impressed with the quality. But what really turned me into a Lidl shopper was just a raging frustration with Tesco. This came to a head when I went to Tesco and had orange juice and Ariel washing liquid on the shopping list. The orange juice was £1.50 a litre, or three for £3. I put three in my basket. The Ariel was BOGOF. At this point I just stared at the price sticker on the shelf thinking "am I actually strong enough to carry five litres of liquid home?" At that point I thought, no, sorry Tesco, I want one litre of orange juice for £1. In fact, no I want 1.5 litres of orange juice for 98p from Lidl. I want my Ariel to be half price, not BOGOF. I don't want to buy three litres of the bloody stuff to carry home with me.

This confusion over prices is widely recognised by retail analysts as being what's driving away Tesco shoppers. And it is bloody annoying. You also regularly see them doing stupid things and cannabalising their own sales through their special offers - not as obvious as the pricing errors that make buying two cheaper than buying one, but subtle ways where if you think about it, because of their daft endless special offers, they must be reducing their own profits. 

Another Tesco thing that is now just annoying is Clubcard. The vouchers we get are absolutely pointless as they'll only give you money off things they don't make much profit on and these are invariably the things you rarely buy. The daft one we always get is 60p off the Guardian or the Observer, when we're subscribers so we pay using a pre-paid voucher so we'll never use it. But basically, I don't want to have to remember to use vouchers, I just want my shopping to be cheap. And the "price promise" vouchers - yeah, thanks for reminding me I could get cheaper shopping elsewhere. Similarly, I wanted to use some Clubcard vouchers to buy a Hudl from Tesco online. I thought the option to cash in the vouchers would come up when I got to the checkout as it would be automatically linked through. No. I had to log in to my Clubcard account, get the voucher codes, go back to Tesco online and cash them. I gave up in the end. Tesco lost an impulse sale of £150. My bad mood, not helped by a cold, was astounding. 

What I increasingly find unbelievable is how poorly Tesco use Clubcard. When they started it it made Tesco the killer company they became throughout the 90s - every little did help as they knew their customers more than anyone else. Comparing them to companies such as Google and Facebook now, they seem utterly clueless about their customers. If I were Tesco I wouldn't be selling the Clubcard bit of the business but investing billions in IT and turning it into something like a Google account - a full on knowing membership. Yes, shopping habits are changing, but I still bet the vast majority of Tesco shoppers do the same shop week-in, week-out. Your Clubcard should be linked to an app on your phone, or a check-in point in the store, that produces your weekly shopping list. This should be linked to their EPOS and stock-control system to maximise the savings (those damned coupons) that you could make that week and offer you live offers. These could flash up on the till at the checkout - offering you, say, 10p off orange juice now, or 30p off if you buy two litres on your next shop. Self-service checkouts could be linked to your account and remember that you always pay by card, defaulting to that option when you press the button to pay. At the most basic, the EPOS and Clubcard system should be able to tell that I pay for my newspaper every week with a voucher, and thus not send me coupons I can never use. 

I like Lidl because it's simple. I can trust it will be cheap, though it is occasionally undercut by Tesco on the price of branded goods. But I don't have to stand there in Lidl doing mental arithmetic to work out if it's cheaper for me to buy 700g of tomato ketchup, or 910g. Tesco should be able to do my shopping for me with their Clubcard data. Instead it's a confusing, frustrating, expensive experience. If they don't sort this out, then Clubcard will go the way of Green Shield stamps.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Lidl Valentines Present

Price: wine £25.99; rose bush £3.99; card 99p

Score (out of five): 5

Review: my wonderful partner is currently busying himself in the kitchen making a cheese souffle for our dinner. Because he is so wonderful I thought I'd attempt to treat him to a Lidl Valentine's day.

I went in the Sunday before Valentine's day I spied the cards and was quite surprised how non-awful they were, so picked the one pictured, which did the job in a suitably non-gender specific way. It even had bits stuck on, which usually bumps the price of cards up to £3+ at most shops.

On the Thursday before Valentine's day I went back in to pick up the rest, even though I'd seen the big signs advertising flowers and gifts due in on Friday 13th. Even so, I managed to pick up a living red rose bush for £3.99 in a very nice bag, and one of the bottle of the Haute-Medoc they're selling, the second most expensive wine in stock. When the £28 bill came up at the till the checkout operator double-checked as she couldn't believe I'd spent that much, and then she informed me that the only other person buying that wine was the store manager. The wine was really nice - we had it with Lidl beef bourguignon pies (review coming up). Definitely worth the investment and it would be one I'd happily bring along to a very posh dinner party.

So, all in all, a Lidl Valentine's day worked very well indeed.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Nixe tuna salads (rice and Mediterranean)

Tuna salad with rice
Price: £1.59 (currently two for £3, which I do not approve of)

Score (out of five): 4 1/2 (rice); 2 1/2 (Mediterranean)

Review: these were one of those utterly random Lidl buys. I was picking up some John West salmon and noticed these next to them, so I thought I'd give the rice salad a whirl for lunch.

Mediterranean style
And wow. I was amazed. Really big meaty chunks of tuna; well cooked rice; and the combination of peppers, olives and sweetcorn worked really well. From 220g you also get 21g of protein, so with a thick slice of bread, it was enough to keep me feeling full until dinner time. And, if you're active and on a high protein diet like me, they're an ideal low-carb, low-GI, high protein lunch.

The Mediterranean one less so. As you can see, it resembles cat food. Luckily it doesn't taste like cat food, but it's no way near as good as the rice one. I don't like pasta cooked in this sort of way - it's a bit like eating rubber worms. Also, the tomato sauce that it's in is a lot like the stuff you get covering tinned sardines. Not ideal. 

But, the tuna one's were so good, I've bought a pile of them and they'll now be my lunch quite often. Very nice indeed. They've also made me brave enough to give the Nixe tinned tuna a try. Once my John West runs out, I'll buy some of that and let you know what it's like. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Deluxe Beef Wellington

Sorry, sorry, sorry - I've been very remiss in keeping this blog going. However, I have been stuffing my face with Lidl products, as well as testing things my guest bloggers recommended - the three fish roast is delicious, and the baby wipes are ideal for cleaning the chain on my racing bike after a ride. But, now it's time for me to blog again. So here goes...

Price: £6.99

Score (out of 5): 3 1/2

Review: this is part of our slow exploration of the Deluxe frozen range. We still have the beef bourguinon pies to go. To not beat about the bush, these were nice, but a mixed bag. They come with a pork and red wine and mushroom jus (top-tip - take it out of the bag to heat it in the microwave). The jus is flavoured with dried thyme, and combined with the incredibly strong umami flavours of the mushrooms, it just hopelessly overpowers everything else on the plate.

Which is a shame, as the wellingtons themselves were worth the price - very good pastry, with a solid hunk of very good quality meat, and the pate to make them even richer. So, I've marked them down for the jus, but I would probably buy them again and just go a bit easy with it.