The food critic’s verdict
By Richard McComb
I had wanted to get my teeth into hospital food for some time, so I was delighted to accept Heartlands Hospital’s invitation for a late-lunch.
The last time I sampled hospital catering was when a relative was admitted to the city’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital almost a decade ago.
The patient was ill nourished due to a medical condition and succeeded in losing more weight on the ward thanks to the rank food. I hesitate to say it was like travelling back to the 1970s because the grub then may well have been fresher and more palatable. I’m sure it must have been hotter.
At Heartlands, the pick of the dishes came from the Asian and Caribbean selection. St Kitts lamb stew had some subtle spicing and tender meat but the dish was topped by a good, wholesome halal lamb curry. The tandoori chicken was a little pastey and superficial.
I liked the Caribbean chicken and sweet potato hash, served with traditional rice and peas (plain basmati rice is also available). It had an authentic, fiery sauce kick.
The red lentil curry had that appealing homemade vibe but could have done with a few more lentils. The nan breads were cold. If you can’t serve them warm, ditch them.
The steak and kidney pie was robust, had a good gravy and plenty of surprisingly tender meat. For me, the pastry crust was fine, dry and crisp on top and moist underneath.
The chips should go the same way as the naan breads. They were tasteless, flabby and decidedly uncrisp.
The much-hyped cauliflower cheese was blisteringly hot (no cold slop here). It’s a personal taste, but I would have preferred a more mature cheese. The sauce was smooth though, not grainy.
The fruit crumble’s topping suffered from being chilled heavily before reheating and as a consequence was wet and heavy. But this, I guess, is down to harsh practicalities.
Heartlands, and the huge trust of which it is part, has to cook en masse and chill/reheat the food otherwise it would go bust. It’s a shame though because what could have been a very good crumble came up just okay. Decent custard clawed back some favour.
Unfortunately, I missed out on the Eve’s pudding but I take my hat off to the kitchen for having a crack at a great traditional dessert.
The main improvement that could be made to the food would be stunningly cheap and easy to pull off.
All of the main dishes would have benefited from the addition of a little more salt – and the crumble would have been transformed by extra sugar.
I fully appreciate salt and sugar intake needs to be monitored, not least in hospitals. But we are talking about modest additions here – and it’s salt and sugar we are talking about, not crack cocaine.
Hospital staff already work closely with patients that require a low salt or sugar diets and this need not be compromised.
The plain fact of the matter is this: if food tastes great (with proper seasoning) patients will be inclined to eat more of it and their recovery will be boosted.
In fact, if the hospital population is in line with the general population, a high percentage of the patients may well be eating far better, and far healthier, at Heartlands than they would do “on the outside.”
So a hospital stay might even be a golden opportunity to win over converts to real food. And real food needs to be seasoned, and when necessary, sprinkled with a bit of sugar.
If you asked me to compare my experience of that awful food at the Queen Elizabeth with today’s Heartlands’ catering, I would express it thus: QE 1 Heartlands 7.