When I first met my husband he lived off toast, ready meals and frozen pizza but over the years I learned that the way to get my man to cook proper food is to buy him nice toys to play with in the kitchen. As I'm away most of the week, I need to know he's not eating rubbish whilst I'm not there. It's a bit like DIY – buy him a super-fab drill and the urge to hang shelves and put up pictures is almost irresistible. I was running low on ideas for new kitchen toys when I spotted this gorgeous knife block in the Viners/Oneida shop at Ellesmere Port's Cheshire Oaks outlet village. My friend Gill and I meet regularly for dinner at Cheshire Oaks and after we've polished off our sarnies and cheesecake in Pret, we tend to take a gentle amble to the Viners shop to gaze at kitchen equipment. Over the years I've bought most of their goodies but I keep going back in the hope of finding something really different and on this particular occasion, that's exactly what we found.
A Fine Upstanding Block
The Viners Ardesia Universal Knife Block is an attractive item that's gorgeous to look at and to touch. I know that sounds bizarre to be getting excited over such a thing but it's really rather special. The block stands 24 cm high, with the oval footprint measuring 14 cm by 11 cm at its widest. It's nice to have curves on a knife block since most are very – no other word for it – 'blocky'.
Unlike typical knife blocks that stand at an angle, the Ardesia stands vertically on little rubbery pads that will prevent any surfaces getting scratched and will stop the block from slipping. The outside of the block is made of high quality bamboo, polished so smooth that it's hard not to stand around stroking it. But it's inside the block where the novelty lies. Instead of having pre-cut holes to fit your knives into, it has no holes at all – just hundreds of long thin pieces of plastic looking a bit like superfine black spaghetti. This means that every knife can fit – hence the name, 'Universal' knife block. Obviously if your knife is the size of a hatchet and bigger than the block it won't fit but all knives within the range of 'normal' kitchen equipment will go in. Indeed knives slip in very easily without needing to be pushed and the blades are protected from each other by the plastic 'spaghetti'.
What's the Point?
If I could be bothered to get worked up about such things, I have to admit that I find standard knife blocks annoying. As someone who doesn't eat (or cook) meat, a standard set of knives generally contains ones that I don't want or need. I suspect most of us buy knife sets and only use a few of the knives. I bought another Viners set a couple of years back which came with eight steak knives. I have no use for one steak knife let alone eight of them but it just looks weird if you have a knife block with 8 empty holes so I was constantly subject to minor irritation at seeing these stupid steak knives in my kitchen. At the other end of the size spectrum, I like to have a couple of large knives on the go. We often cook together and don't particularly want to fight over who gets the big sharp knife and who has to settle for a smaller one. Most sets of knives attempt to give a broad range to cover most needs but I'd much rather buy knives individually.With the Ardesia block, you can keep the knives you want and use most often all in one place. I can even store my bizarre Adjust-a-slice bread knife with the special cutting guide that I use for home made bread with the knife in the block and the guide sliding down the outside. Some people may struggle to identify the knife they want if they have a lot of knives with identical sized handles but I've not found this to be a problem. Certainly it's no more of a problem than with a standard block.
If your block should get grubby it can easily by wiped clean or if you really need to give it a scrub, the plastic spaghetti slides and you can wash the block.
The recommended selling price for the Ardesia is £50 which reflects the quality of the materials used but if you shop around you can find one for just over half that amount online or in the Viners/Oneida outlet shops. This compares pretty well with a standard knife block but offers a lot of additional benefits. If you like the idea of a universal block but aren't excited by the bamboo, you can find similar blocks by Bodum in multiple colours.