When our old Panasonic microwave combination oven started showing seriously bad signs of wear (the front window falling out for starters) my mother and I knew that we still wanted another Panasonic brand despite the second one only lasting for five years. You see, our previous Panasonic microwave before the all singing dancing conversion/convection mix lasted twenty one years and with its easier and more compact pull down door, and touch proof control panel it was clear that the Panasonic microwave we had bought was worth the price even though it cost more than many rivals at the time. Our old microwave (and thus our first given its age) had an enamel lining that was incredibly easy to keep clean even though it was very large it also housed all the food we could chuck in it and remained quiet in use only annoying some users of its 7 "final cook" beep alert at the end. The problem was we just couldn't find an alternative microwave combination oven that would be bettered than our second Panasonic with the dodgy door. Oh and how we've shopped around! Scottish Power, Comet, Curry's and Argos couldn't show us a better oven against Panasonic spec and at one point I caught my eye on a splendid Samsung oven with a drop down door and an enamel ceramic lining (finally!) harking back to what we first owned. So it was a pity that the model in question only had the microwave element and grill function, a small capacity and no oven function. Dong! Round two! This is a long review!
Due to her 67 years of age then, my mum can still bend to the floor doing aerobics but when it comes to baking with our old Bosch multi-convection oven it can really be quite an exercise watching her struggle to lift heavy pans out of the oven (and of course even with me providing help, it is "her oven and she knows what she is doing!") and before long as a result we know that eventually we will have to go for a split oven as she loves her baking and knows that no matter what the manufactures tell you, using a combination microwave oven is no ideal substitute for a bigger and higher temperature oven when it comes to experienced baking. In the meantime a combination oven with a microwave element is crucial for us for quick to heat meals, defrosting garden grown frozen vegetables, the odd meat dish and endless casseroles and home made soups to see us both through the Autumn and Winter months. You'd think that with a standard sized microwave my mother would approve! But she needs something large enough for batch baking to cope with the demands of charity and church work too. So it was that finally amidst looking at so many different brands we returned to where we purchased our Bosch fridge freezer and at John Lewis it looked like we found the answer in their self-branded microwave combination oven JLFSMW003. At a cost price of £259 and a further free two year guarantee this is one very expensive oven but again, we weren't going to settle for second best and having already "logged" our details with John Lewis meant we got a discount on their 5 year additional guarantee that would normally cost £45 extra, free delivery and JL also promised to take away our old microwave even though I had turfed it myself! It pays to return to a seller who knows how to sweeten the deals!
The features on this microwave are quite extensive and many may argue for the price it should well be the case. Briefly offering 19 auto cook programmes, a quick bake and a defrost function as well as a high power 1500 watt grill and 1000 watts microwave power. Just how much power and derivative cooking programs do you need? With a rather large height of approximately 34cm, width by 53cm and a diameter of 51cm, it is as my mother put it "...a bloody big brute..." of an oven despite all the plusses! Those with small kitchens may well struggle to accommodate this appliance and rightly so as you'll need at least a further 7" from the top and sides to allow the oven to expel hot air freely. What I rather like about the oven however isn't it's 34cm sized turntable plate (hurray at last we can use our old large full size dinner plates again!) or the massive 32 litre capacity on offer but and more importantly, just like our old microwave "without the convection grill," the insides are totally coated in black speckled enamel ceramic like conventional ovens, thus no need for much scrubbing and scouring when it comes to removing hard baked on foods and unlike the last oven, the JL also has a softer interior with more flush fitted corners to minimize trapped food stains that can prove to be awkward upon washing down later on. If there's a stain all you need is a hot damp cleaning agent free cloth - food stains just seem to slide off with apparent ease. With stainless steel I've often found there is some scrubbing to do.
Wrapped around a complete space age stainless steel exterior and pretty much matching everything on its body except it's Darth Vader like black glass at the front, the John Lewis microwave has a wealth of information clearly black on silver labelled and accessed by its touch buttons that are like proper cushioned buttons as opposed to the original Panasonic design that the John Lewis model is based on. This means that whilst the buttons are wash wipe proof they feel substantial and for the price here you do get quality right down to the clarity of each menu and its associated function on offer. Indeed being Panasonic based means the simplest timings available from 10 hours, 1 hour, 10 minutes and increments of 10 seconds. Nothing new here where most ovens are concerned but Panasonic have been masters at this for so long it is hard to forget that they introduced the more internationally recognised "High," "Medium," "Low," and "Simmer," power tags against the more budget (and frankly I find, confusing) numbers and pulses when it comes to selecting the actual temperatures on microwave cooking. Not only that but over budget microwaves that make do with the basic minutes and no seconds, it is so very convenient having the ability to select 1 to 10 seconds for reheating. So it's a pity that rather immediately the moment the microwave is switched on the LCD screen lacks proper darkness behind its green LCD numbers which means you have to look up at the LCD panel closely than from a distance. I noticed it straight away given that we had only disposed of our old Panasonic combo oven, which had a better, but similar icon packed screen.
That however seems to be one of its very few downsides. The capacity of this oven is simply fantastic due to its rather large squarish shape not just it's actual known capacity and it seems to be able to hold the largest of large to medium family sized whole chickens that we have chucked in. Out comes the old cookware that we couldn't really manage in the old Panasonic such as an old family sized rice cooker and large Corning dishes that haven't seen the light of day. The cooking programs are also very precise and it is good here that John Lewis have relied upon Panasonic technology and know how when it comes to programs such as sensor cooking or defrosting. I don't particularly like defrosting meat or fish in microwaves generally because of fear of contamination if the meat hasn't thawed right through or a known weakness, where heat starts to cook half of the meat. Worse still, defrosting vegetables or bread in a microwave often means part of it is still frozen. Similar to the "Chaos Defrost," by Panasonic, John Lewis have their own metaphor but it still works very well with very little hard frozen bits in bread if it has only been put on for a minute or two whilst thin pieces of meat or fish work best against thick salmon steaks if you really must defrost meat or fish in that manner.
In terms of actual fitment the turntable glass and metal cover are all purpose designed to fit easily into one another and there are three extra attachments also enclosed when you get the oven brand new such as a high rise grill, low rise grill and the important convection oven cover deep pan that can also be used for cooking on as well as holding the grill pieces in. This part, a non-stick part is also dishwasher safe and fits onto the already temperered glass turntable. Needless to say at this price level all the parts are dishwasher safe.
The 10 seconds facility merely boosts the appeal of this convection microwave oven. For starters unlike most foods these days that carry the E/900 watts maximum function, the John Lewis model can be lowered appropriately because of its high maximum output which may mean 1 minute off the promised cooked meal you have in mind, but when it comes to heating up cold tea or coffee in a mug you're looking at just 8 to 10 seconds for close to bubbling. Now that's pretty impressive and for my mother who wastes a lot of instant coffee, a godsend to keeping the same cup ready for reheating instead of turfing out old, cold coffee that hasn't been drunk. Auto cook programs give much thought into what is available to auto cook these days and it is a standard both my family and I have recognised in Panasonic's ovens; from pizza to carry outs, the John Lewis covers almost every eventuality with reheating stages that don't need the owner to constantly check, or stops the cooking half way so that you have to open the door to check it; you press a button, chuck the food in and away the oven goes to cook it. Now that's my idea of auto sensory cooking. Then, when it is all done, it beeps the traditional Panasonic like 7 beeps and the food is evenly cooked. Infact the beeps are the loudest part of the microwave oven because in normal use aside from slight advances in power changes, this oven is quiet in use. There is even a child lock function; a Delay function timer and the clock can be timed in 24 or 12 hours. Don't like the idea of using fan assistance convection cooking? Then don't! The John Lewis microwave can also handle traditional convection heating as well as fan assistance and for experienced bakers sometimes having this facility can be justified for home grown bread that has been done to more traditional means than relying on our bread maker - and yes, it's about 20 years old itself and another Panasonic!
The other bonus of this oven is that unlike the last one there is no grill to hide the actual top grill element. It just sits there on the roof of the microwave and easy to clean when needed. True whilst the naked element rings may well put off some buyers who may be looking for flush fitment, I rather approve of the bare elements - our last Panasonic oven had the same element but it was covered by a permanent grill cover that couldn't be taken off and for a product that heats up food, optimum hygiene is a saving grace against form and function in the past.
At the end of the day I feel the John Lewis JLFSMW003 Convection-fan-assisted-grill-microwave oven has a lot going for it. Yes, whilst it is expensively priced it has a wealth of cooking programs for people who love to cook not to mention those who need food cooked, defrosted or reheated in the fastest time possible. For badge snobbery consumers, the label of John Lewis may be an immediate obstacle. For normal buyers looking for a large state of the art microwave that teaches you a thing or two about food prep, cleaning and how best to cook in the shortest time available, the John Lewis JLFSMW003 combo oven is very well thought out - even if it is a Panasonic in Drag! Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2009
www.johnlewis.com (product code 86690203)
Short name: John Lewis JLFSMW003