The Panasonic NN-CS894S is a large, family-sized combination microwave, grill and steam oven. It’s exclusive to John Lewis. It has a flatbed rather than a turntable, which means it can be used to cook and reheat large dishes. It’s very similar to the Panasonic NN-CF853W but with added steam.
It’s very capable and has a large number of programs. But most of its functions are already handled by your existing oven and grill, so it’s only worth the sizeable investment either if you regularly need an extra couple of shelves worth of oven space or if you want to get into cooking with steam.
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First impressions: large. The Panasonic’s footprint is a bit bigger than most but it’s much taller than other microwaves. As a result it’s also very heavy, not easy for one person to lift.
The design betrays the fact that this is a standalone microwave that thinks it’s built in, complete with full-width door that opens downwards like an oven. Which makes sense considering it boasts all the same features as your oven and more. This is nice and ambidextrous, and safer than a hot oven door potentially swinging back on you.
As a microwave it’s large, with a 32 litre capacity ideal for family cooking and a flatbed design rather than a turntable. So you can, for example, reheat food in large rectangular dish that would get stuck on a turntable. It has three shelf positions and comes with a wire oven shelf, glass shelf, enamel shelf and steaming trivet. Below the door on one side you’ll find a drip tray and on the other a reservoir for steam cooking.
There are lots of touch-sensitive buttons for the various types of program (microwave, steam, grill, convection and various combinations of them all). These are all icons. And instead of a knob, there’s a touch-sensitive slider - you can either tap plus and minus or drag a finger across it to adjust cooking time.
It has self-cleaning, catalytic linings on the top and back, so most spills can just be wiped clean. It also has an inverter. A magnetron (that's the gizmo inside that makes the microwaves) can only be switched on or off, not turned down to low power. Most microwaves achieve low-power cooking then by turning the magnetron on and off. This and other Panasonics instead have an inverter so the magnetron is powered using an alternating current, which means its six power levels can be controlled precisely rather than just switched on and off.
The Panasonic has 8 steam-only and 8 auto steam with microwave programs. These let you cook fish and veggies in a way that preserve nutrients, but steam can help other cooking too. Its 3 minute steam shot is designed to help breads, cakes and pastries rise.
Oven-wise temperatures range from 40°C great for proving bread, up to 230°C for baking bread and pizza.
It takes a while to get to grips with the Panasonic's controls. The buttons are all icons, which are confusing at first (and will baffle guests trying to reheat a cuppa) but once you get used to it they’re all logical. Plus they have the advantage of a large display with scrolling text, so when you hit a button it immediately tells you what you’ve pressed, so you can cancel if you got it wrong.
The display also walks you through the various accessories, telling you which type of shelf to use in which position. We cooked a huge (815g) jacket potato using the Panasonic's auto sensor program. These programmes don't require you to set a cooking time, power or weight, instead the microwave senses when cooking is complete.
It decided to cook the potato for half an hour, using a combination of microwave and oven. When the time was up, we had a superb oven-crisp jacket spud that wasn't quite cooked in the middle, but considering the size of the potato this wasn't too shocking – it only needed an extra 2 minutes of full-power microwaving to complete the cooking.
We baked some fairy cakes to see if the addition of some light steam really improves baking (the extra moisture is why serious bakers prefer gas ovens to electric). The instructions recommended 8 minutes oven cooking, 3 minutes combined with steam, and then a further 8 minutes. These are all programmed at the same time – as with any oven, it's a good idea to preheat first, we gave it 5 minutes.
When programming we found the touch-sensitive slider bar pleasant to use, but sometimes frustrating. To set the fairy cakes, for example, you have to press the convection button repeatedly to get the right temperature, then use the slider bar to set the cooking time, then repeat for each stage of the cooking. It's easy to make the mistake of using the plus/minus on the slider bar to try to set the temperature but this just messes things up and you have to start again.
Watching the cakes cook, the steam wasn't visible in the oven, although we could hear the water being pumped out of the reservoir so there definitely was steam happening. The cakes rose visibly during the steam cooking in particular. At the end, the cakes were all evenly cooked, regardless of their position in the oven, but slightly underdone – they needed a couple more minutes. But they had risen nicely. They had a better texture than the cakes cooked in the Panasonic NN-CF853W but weren't quite as light and fluffy as those cooked in our Neff fan-assisted oven (pictured in a white case).
We also tried grilling (a bit slow off the starting blocks but it toasted evenly and the timer was helpful – no danger of burning the toast if you preset the cooking time) and microwaving (good but its 'chaos' defrost which pulses randomly didn't seem any more effective than an ordinary defrost setting).
If you want all the bells and whistles, and you have enough space for it, then yes. The Panasonic won't disappoint. It's packed with features and essentially gives you two extra shelves worth of oven cooking space as well as microwaving and a steam oven to boot.
If you're not bothered about cooking with steam or the low-temperature setting for proving, save money and get the Panasonic NN-CF853W. Or consider the Sage the Quick Touch if you want a top-notch microwave without the combi functions.
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The Panasonic NN-CS894S is so much more than a microwave – buy it if you want extra oven space and healthy steam cooking.