"Tested" is our new column where we check out new goods and services. We see if they're worth you're time and money so you don't have to. You're welcome.
Cooking at home can be a serious pain in the ass. Even if you can overcome the intimidation most people feel when it comes to cooking. Making a meal at home can be a frustrating ordeal. There are trust issues with the wet markets, the import grocers typically offer only a smattering of what your recipe calls for, and with a new restaurant opening it's doors seemingly every day, why cook when you can pay someone with more experience to do it for you?
But in recent years, companies like Blue Apron in the US, have tried to give customers the experience of cooking without all of the anxiety, by delivering pre-portioned ingredients and preparation instructions. Naturally, the trend has made it to Shanghai, too. With companies like Xin Wei Cook, and, more recently, Hey-Chef. We took both services for a spin.
When it comes to selection. Xin Wei wins by a landslide for now, with a menu of 32 dishes that continues to grow. The variety is impressive, too, with dishes like beef udon, mackerel and ratatouille, and veal tenderloin.
Hey-Chef, by comparison, offers only five savory dishes — Spanish paella and lentils or prawn cous cous, for instance. Hey-Chef does, however, set itself from Xin Wei with baking packages like cheesecake. They've only got three. I can only assume that Hey-Chef has intentions to grow its menu in due time.
Anyway, we settled on Xin Wei's "Cordon Bleu" with a side Caesar and Hey-Chef's "Sicilian Feast" of steak with pasta, tomatoes, goat cheese, and wine sauce.
Here is what we got...
Both deliver the goods exactly when they say they will, so overall high marks for both services in this category. But if you live within the inner ring road, Xin Wei can get your meal to you in under three hours — even as fast as 45 minutes, they say. Hey-Chef, for now, does next day delivery only.
Both services provide illustrated instructions with your ingredients. Unfortunately, this is another point in favor of Xin Wei. They actually provide them in English. Hey-Chef, on the other hand, only prints their instructions in Chinese. This is only a temporary problem, apparently, and they say that English instructions are forth coming. Why they don't provide them already is baffling, though. The quality of English copy on their website is worlds apart from Xin Wei's.
Here is how Xin Wei describes the recipe for "Cordon Bleu" that we ordered.
"A super delicacy you should never miss! Smell the flavor of cheese and get the feeling of dropping into the world of the delicious soft tenderloin once you have a bite of the cordon bleu, ham and the salad can also bring you a surprising contrary light taste. It’s time for a start!"
And here is what Hey-Chef says about the "Sicilian Feast."
"A romantic symbol of Southern Italy, Sicily is known for its cuisine that brings out the natural flavors of the ingredients. During holidays, families would set up tables and silverwares, and share food together accompanied by rounds of toast and laughter..."
Okay. Come to think of it, neither one of them is Hemingway, but it's patently obvious which company has invested in a native English-speaking copywriter, and yet that company hasn't gotten it's English menu together yet.
Language differences aside, though, both offer a reasonably idiot-proof cooking experience. Both give their recipes skill-level ratings, but even the most difficult are pretty easy. If you can use a knife, boil a pot of water, and operate a stove, you're already qualified to cook most of these.
In fact, if you have any cooking experience whatsoever, you may not even want to limit yourself to the instructions provided. When I cooked both meals I had to resist coloring outside the lines by adding ingredients from my own kitchen and applying techniques I already knew.
Price vs. Quality
Xin Wei's only advantage here is price. It's markedly cheaper, and you can order portions for as few as one diner. Xin Wei's "Cordon Bleu" dinner for two, for example, set me back only 116rmb. Hey-Chef's "Sicilian Feast" for two cost 238rmb plus an additional 20rmb shipping fee — more than twice as much. But, if the Sicilian Feast that I ordered was any indicator, you're getting far better product, too. For one thing, the steaks come from Aussie importer Elders.
...and they cook up quite nicely.
It's the little details where Xin Wei falls short, though. They cut corners with ingredients like pressed ham, processed cheddar cheese food product, and a "Caesar" salad that comes with something that's more akin to mayonnaise than a delicious, umami rich, anchovy and egg-based dressing.
These are the kinds of details that you notice if you're really into food.
For what it's worth, here are the finished products from both.
Xin Wei's "Cordon Bleu"
Hey-Chef's "Sicilian Feast"
Yes, there are disparities in quality, but let's face it. They're commensurate with price, and Xin Wei still has too many other points in its favor: Convenience, price, instructions in reasonably understandable English. All of that factored in, we have to pick Xin Wei as the superior service of the two. However, we see some promise with Hey-Chef. In our experience, they really do offer a superior product. Once they work out a few minor kinks, it could be a strong competitor.