On one side of the fence, you can almost hear people gleefully rubbing their hands with the smug anticipation of rising house prices. Not to mention the prospect of loading up on seafood paella, "gastropub" chunky chips, superfood salads, and Belgian chocolate melt-in-the-middle puddings on their way home from work. None of these items, as far as I am aware, are available from Iceland. But others argue that Iceland is a valuable resource for those of us with less cash to spare.
I admit, I hadn't been inside the store in well over ten years. The only occasion I could remember was when I first arrived here, and I emerged with three packets of biscuits and some paper plates. But although I'm not a regular Iceland customer, I probably won't use the new M&S all that much either... so I'm open minded about the change. I decided to pay another visit to Iceland before it disappeared, so I could see what I'll be missing.
The in-store Experience
The shop has obviously not been updated in at least 25 years, the beige tiles and abundant orange trim are guaranteed to put off the chattering classes and image conscious young professionals. The front of the store has a small section of fresh fruit, veg and dairy, but this looked similar to any other supermarket, and the prices seemed no lower. This was not the reason for my visit. I walked over to the expansive frozen foods section... this was the stuff.
"Excuse me," I said meekly to an employee (with a strange residue around her mouth, as if she'd been drinking Yop straight from the bottle). "Where can I find the chicken tikka lasagne"?
"I dunno. Where do you normally find it?" came the rather bizzare answer.
Eventually I found what I was looking for, and also picked up a few other items that tickled my fancy. A doner kebab pizza. Microwavable chicken strips. Sweet and sour chicken (with rice) for one. Despite the fact that the store was almost deserted, the checkout queue was pretty slow as there was only one till open. But eventually I left the store with enough food for the weekend, for a grand total of £3.75. You would be hard pushed to buy a single meal in M&S for that sort of money.
Chicken Tikka Lasagne
I was getting hungry, and decided to start with the signature dish, chicken tikka lasagne. Despite the unsavoury memory of Kerry Katona advertising this on TV, I eagerly stuck it in the microwave for the recommended duration. It came out looking rather anemic, so I put it under the grill for a couple of minutes, and turned it out onto a plate.
First of all, any curry lover can see straight away that this does not even vaguely resemble chicken tikka. What we have between the layers of pasta is bog standard chicken curry, which would probably be fine as a jacket potato topping, for instance. But curry with cheese sauce is not a combination I would have personally put together (and that's saying something). Still, it is not as unpleasant as popular opinion would have you believe, and I actually ate most of it.
I was particularly cynical about this one. You simply pop open the box, and stick it in the microwave for three minutes. Surely they couldn't possibly emerge crispy? And guess what - they didn't. They came out limp, soggy, and chewy.
The reformed chicken pieces had the texture of polystyrene coated in porrige. I was reminded of the damp microwave chips my Mum used to give us as an after school "treat". They were a bad idea, and so was this. I only managed to eat 1 piece.
Doner Kebab Pizza
This one actually sounded like something I might want to eat. I had a renewed enthusiasm for the doner kebab after my recent attempt at making my own, and saw no reason why it couldn't work on top of a pizza.
The pizza was of the "deep pan" variety, with an inch thick base of stodgy bread. It felt strangely nostalgic - this is the kind of food I was raised on. I guess that explains a lot. But it also reminded me how much British food has improved over the last 20 years. The cheese had the texture of melted cheese, but tasted of nothing. The doner kebab pieces, even when sampled in isolation, had only the faintest hint of meaty flavour. But still, it doesn't feel right to judge this on flavour. It's a big slab of food, that will fill almost anyone up for only £1.
I only finished half of it - I could have eaten more, but there didn't seem any point.
We eat Chinese food in our house several times a week. Even though sweet and sour chicken is not exactly Chinese food... I felt well qualified to judge this one. Considering the ridiculously low price, I was impressed to find that there were no reformed meat pieces in sight - this contained actual chicken (even if it had a texture of meat which has already been chewed and partially digested). There were also quite a few bits of vegetable in there which had somehow managed to remain chrunchy, despite being encased with orange gunk and buried in the freezer cabinet for the past year.
The first couple of mouthfuls didn't taste too bad, but after that, the overriding syrupy sweetness became a bit much. But I was hungry, and had neglected to buy any real food, so ended up eating over half of it.
So, will I be visiting Iceland again any time soon? Unlikely. But I can see why people might use it when the food is this cheap. Of course, it helps if you don't really care what it tastes like.