The Noma Guide to Fermentation By René Redzepi & David Zilber

Fermentation cover.png

What’s the USP? Everything you ever wanted to know about fermenting food but were afraid to ask. Plus, everything else you didn’t even know you wanted to know.

Who are the authors? René Redzepi is one of a handful of chefs worldwide that literally need no introduction but, just in case he’s not on your radar, Redzepi is the pugnacious co-owner of noma in Copenhagen, four times recognized as the world’s best by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is the poster boy for the hugely influential Nordic food movement/marketing initiative and has twice appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He’s also the author of Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine and A Work in Progress. However, you probably will need an introduction to David Zilber, chef and photographer from Toronto who has cooked across North America, most notably as a sous-chef at Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. He has worked at noma since 2014 and has served as director of its fermentation lab since 2016.

What does it look like? With more than 750 full-colour photographs, most of them step-by-step how-to guides, The Noma Guide to Fermentation looks very much like the technical manual it actually is, so the hand-drawn illustrations by Paula Troxler add a very welcome extra visual dimension.

Is it good bedtime reading? Well, there’s certainly a lot to read but, given its mainly technical nature (introduction by Redzepi himself aside, which is a fun read), whether its the sort of thing to send you off into the land of nod is debatable.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may need to head online for things like unpasteurized kombucha and SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) but often the recipes are simply one common ingredient, such as plums, and salt.

What’s the faff factor? There are a lot of things to consider when fermenting anything so although the ingredients might be simple, the processes can be complex and may require the purchase of specialist equipment, all of which is listed in the book. Think of fermentation as your new hobby, like home brewing beer,  rather than cooking.

How often will I cook from the book? This is pretty much an all or nothing deal. If you are interested in serving your family/guests lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables, black fruits and vegetables (e.g. black garlic or any fruit and veg that undergoes a ‘very slow, very dark browning’ over a period of weeks) or want to make your own vinegar, kombucha, miso or garum (a sort of ancient form of Asian fish sauce), then this is the book for you.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? You’ll have no complaints on this score at all. With master recipes for each type of ferment clocking in at about 10 pages each, including those step by step photos, you’ll never be left scratching your head wondering what to do next.

Killer recipes? The book should really be seen as an instruction manual that unlocks the potential of a process rather than a collection of individual recipes that you’d dip in and out of, but that said, you might well find lacto ceps; apple kombucha; perry vinegar; pearly barley koji (grains fermented by inoculation with fungus spores to produce what is essentially a sort of mouldy, umami rich cake that can be used in other fermentation process or added to stews or just fried and eaten) compelling ideas.

What will I love? The book really does do what it says on the tin and guides you through fermentation, taking you far beyond familiar kimchi and sauerkraut. There is a sense of authority throughout, and you get the sense that these people really know what they’re talking about and have depthless practical experience to back it all up.

What won’t I like? Although there are suggested uses for all the ferments (which will be of particular interest to home cooks), there are only one or two examples of how they are used in complete noma restaurant dishes which some readers may find frustrating. That said, the book is well over 400 pages long without sample restaurant recipes so maybe We’ll just have to wait for the next noma cookbook to see how Redzepi uses all this stuff.

 Should I buy it? If you feel the need to ferment and you don’t already own The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, or are a particular fan of noma and René Redzepi, then fill your boots (and fermentation vessels), you won’t be disappointed.

Cuisine: Nordic/International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
The Noma Guide to Fermentation (Foundations of Flavor)
£30, Artisan

Mirazur by Mauro Colagreco

Mirazur

What’s the USP? A premium coffee table book celebrating chef Mauro Colagreco’s three Michelin star Mirazur restaurant in Menton in the Côte d’Azur, currently rated number three on the World’s 50 Best restaurant list.  Colagreco’s unique ingredients-led style is informed by restaurant’s location close to the boarder of France and Italy.

Who’s the author? Mauro Colagreo is an Argentinian-born chef of Italian and Spanish descent and a protégé of legendary French chefs Alain Passard and the late Bernard Loiseau. He opened Mirazur in 2006 and was named ‘revelation of the year’ by the Gault & Millau guide that same year. He won his first star in 2007 with the second star following in 2012.

What does it look like? In a word, incredible. Colagreco’s eye for presentation is unsurpassed and Eduardo Torres’s photographs make each of the 65 dishes included in the book look like Renaissance masterpieces. The Côte d’Azur landscape has never looked more magnificent and the shots of Nice, Menton and Ventimiglia markets that supply many of Colagreco’s ingredients will make you want to move to the south of France, or at least book a trip there.

 Is it good bedtime reading? An overall introduction, introductions to each of the book’s three chapters Méditerranée, Jardins and Montagne, supplier profiles (including an illustrated guide to mushrooms) and a laudatory preface by Massimo Bottura means there’s plenty to pour over to help you wind down after a hectic day.

 Killer recipes? Tortellini, almonds, smoked broth; baby squids, beans, pork consommé; goose barnacles, green beans, sea lettuce; squab, spelt, wild strawberries. 

 How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There are accurate measurements for virtually every ingredient in the book and methods are detailed enough to be followed by chefs familiar with how to use equipment such as a Thermomix and dehydrator.

What will I love?  At 372 pages and standing a foot tall, Mirazur is a big impressive book that does full justice to its subject matter. There are little surprises dotted throughout including Pablo Neruda’s poem Ode to Bread printed on transparent paper that overlays a shot of Colagreco’s signature pleated bread rolls, and a fold out illustrated guide to herbs printed on matt paper that contrasts with the high-quality glossy stock used for the main body of the book. The idea that Colgreco’s cooking is borderless (the book quotes Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl who said, ‘Borders? I’ve never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people) is a particularly attractive one in the current political climate of rampant nationalism.

What won’t I like? Apart from two double page black and white portraits, Colagreco is almost entirely absent from his own book, represented only by his dishes and recipes. The text is written by his wife Laura (who, at times, wanders perilously close to poetic pretention; about the Côte d’Azur, she says ‘Many describe the environment like a body transported by the surprise of two feelings in front of the marvels of nature and their singular disposition’), and the food was prepared by two members of the Mirazur brigade, Antonio Buono and Paulo Corsi. While it’s refreshing to read a cookbook that gives so much credit to a chef’s suppliers and the terroir he works within, it would have been nice to hear Colagreco’s own voice, either in the form of an interview or in recipe introductions which are sadly lacking.  In addition, there are no pictures of the restaurant itself which seems a bizarre omission.

Should I buy it? At £70 (although you can find the book heavily discounted online), Mirazur is quite the investment, but real effort has been made to elevate it above the level of souvenir. Colagreco is one of the most individual chefs working in the modern progressive genre and anyone who aspires to join him in the rarefied heights of gastronomy would be rewarded by reading this book.

Cuisine: French/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Mirazur (English)
Catapulta, £70

Tom Kitchin’s Fish and Shellfish

Tom Kitchin

What’s the USP? A celebration of the fruits of the sea by one of Scotland and the UK’s best-known chefs and restaurateurs.

Who’s the author? Tom Kitchin worked for the very best in the business including Alain Ducasse and Pierre Koffman before opening The Kitchin in Leith in 2006 with wife Michaela. He quickly notched up a Michelin star and went on to open the highly rated Castle Terrace and Scran and Scallie gastropub, both in Edinburgh. Later this year he launches the Bonnie Badger pub with room in the village of Gullane on the East Lothian coast as well as Southside Scran gastrpub in the Bruntsfield area of Edinburgh. Kitchin’s cherubic features and curl mop of hair can regularly be seen on the BBC in shows such as Saturday Kitchen, Masterchef the Professionals and The Chef’s Protege.

What does it look like? This is Tom Kitchin, Michelin-star chef creating recipes for the home cook so expect slightly more relaxed food presentation than you might find at his signature restaurant. Each recipe is headed with a hand drawn illustration of the main seafood element by Nathan Shellard which is a very nice touch and there are a few photographic portraits of Kitchin, en famille doing various seaside related activities.

Is it great bedtime reading? It’s not exactly a gastronomic War and Peace, but the brief introduction is bolstered by a useful chapter on seafood cooking techniques and each of the 100 recipes has a breezy, upbeat introductory paragraph, many of which contain tasty nuggets of culinary wisdom.

Killer recipes?  Octopus, mixed bean and black olive salad; squid and prawn stuffed courgette flowers; monkfish, salmon and scallop kebabs; roasted cod head with citrus dressing; smoked haddock and Mull cheddar souffles; clam and miso broth.

What will I love?  Kitchin covers his subject well with a good range of fish and shellfish with chapters on crustaceans, molluscs, cephalopods, flat fish, white fish, oily fish and mixed seafood dishes. Although this is aimed primarily at the home cook, there are plenty of ‘cheffy’ dishes like scallop and chicory with Spiced Sauternes sauce to interest Kitchin’s fellow professionals.

What won’t I like? There could be more guidance on how to make sure you’re cooking with sustainable seafood and Kitchin tends to stick with the more mainstream varieties and swerves things like black bream, grey mullet and gurnard, all wonderful fish that any decent fishmonger should be able to sell you.

Should I buy it? Kitchin has entered a crowded market and set himself up against some big names, not least of which is Rick Stein who published his own book called Fish and Shellfish in 2014; Tom Aiken’s excellent Fish, and the lesser known but still wonderful Feast of Fish by Ian McAndrew. But as a fresh take on the subject for 2019, Tom Kitchin’s Fish and Shellfish is well worth investigating.

Cuisine: Scottish/seafood
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Tom Kitchin’s Fish and Shellfish
£26 , Absolute Press

Estela by Ignacio Mattos

Estela

Ignacio Mattos’s downtown Manhattan restaurant Estela has a cult following among British chefs. James Lowe invited Mattos to cook at his Shoreditch restaurant Lyles in 2017 and Matthew Young, formerly of Elroy and Mayfield’s, is a fan. Before opening Estela in 2013, Uruguay-born Mattos worked for Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café and Alice Water and David Tanis at Chez Panisse in San Francisco. In the book’s introduction, he sites Francis Mallmann, the godfather of elemental open fire cooking, as his ‘main mentor’ and with whom he cooked outdoors in New York during a snowstorm and on top of a mountain in Mendoza.

In the brief introduction, Mattos talks about his culinary travels that have allowed him to explore everything from Italy’s cucina povera to modernist cooking in Spain; from classical French cuisine to the Afro-Brazilian cooking of Bahia, Brazil. That global perspective is reflected in the ‘Estel Essentials’ chapter that lists Italian bottarga, Southeast Asian fish sauce and Japanese furikake seasoning among Mattos’s favoured pantry ingredients.

In less intuitive hands, such broad open-mindedness could result in fusion-confusion. Mattos however has an ace up his sleeve with his underlying ethos of ‘layering, tension and balance’ that brings harmony to disparate elements through the considered and subtle use of vinegars, citric acids, spicy heat and savoury items such as fish sauce or juiced green garlic that bring his dishes to a ‘happy place just at the borderline of too much’.

It’s an approach typified by a signature dish of sushi-grade fluke that’s cured in sugar and salt, diced and mixed with Arbequina olive oil and mandarin olive oil and served with sea urchin roe, yuzu kosho (a paste of chillies fermented with yuzu juice and zest and salt) and white grapefruit zest. Other stand outs from the collection of more than 133 recipes include lamb ribs with chermoula and honey; cured foie gras wrapped in grape leaves, grilled and served with chicken jus seasoned with soy and ponzu, and steak served with black sesame bearnaise and turnips.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes a book like Estela to prove you (delightfully) wrong. Mattos has a particular and distinctive take on what can make up the menu of a ‘neighbourhood restaurant’, a viewpoint that will provide a wealth of inspiration to chefs no matter what type of establishment they are cooking in.

Cuisine: American/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Estela
$35, Artisan

The French Revolution by Michel Roux Jr

French Revolution Michel Roux Jr

What’s the USP? Classic French home cooking updated to ‘suit the way we like to eat today’, cutting down on butter and cream, eschewing luxury ingredients like foie gras, lobster and truffle and focusing on simpler recipes that don’t require a full batterie de cuisine and a KP to wash it all up afterwards.

Who’s the author? Michel Roux Jr is restaurant royalty, son of the legendary Albert Roux, father of Emily (who has just opened her first London restaurant Caractère) and is chef/patron of legendary Mayfair joint Le Gavroche and oversees fine dining destinations Roux at Parliament Square and Roux at The Landau, where he also has his own pub The Wigmore. He is a regular on TV shows like Saturday Kitchen and has written seven previous cookbooks.

Killer recipes? Basque-style chicken; shrimp tartlets thermidor; red mullet pastilla; duck confit pie; lamb with haricot beans; roast pears with nougat and dark chocolate sauce; fig tarte Tatin.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Apart from salt and pepper, there are weights and measures for every ingredient. The methods are sometimes usefully vague – for example, for Duck Confit Pie the instructions say to ‘sweat the chopped onion until soft and lightly browned’ rather than claiming that they will be cooked in five minutes; onions never are.

Is it good bedtime reading? There is very little additional text in the book, even the recipe introductions are kept to a bare minimum.

What will I love? Roux Jr has included recipes from all over France, some of which only the most ardent of Francophiles will have encountered before such as Seiche a la Sétoise from the Languedoc-Roussillon (cuttlefish as prepared in the port city of Séte, slow cooked with white wine, saffron, tomatoes and olives) and Tourment D’Amour from the overseas French region of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean (sweet pastry cases filled with coconut jam, crème patissiere and genoise sponge). Roux Jr is a skilled baker and the chapter on boulangerie is a particular joy with recipes for goat’s cheese bread; garlic bread that’s baked with cloves of garlic confit in the dough; and speculoos, spicy biscuits made with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

What won’t I like? The lack of explanatory text is disappointing, and these are not Roux Jr’s restaurant dishes; you’ll need to pick up a copy of Le Gavroche Cookbook for that.

Should I buy it? The huge variety of dishes could easily provide inspiration for a dinner party, special occasion celebratory meal for two or something quick and easy for days off or when you arrive home hungry after work.

Cuisine: American/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
The French Revolution: 140 Classic Recipes made Fresh & Simple
£25, Seven Dials

In My Blood by Bo Bech

BoBech_CoverGeist3D_kvadratisk_180806

What’s the USP? Recipes, essays and musings that tell the story behind the creation and running of the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant Geist.

Who are the authors? Danish chef Bo Bech (the surname is pronounced ‘Beck’) made his name with his avant garde cooking at the Michelin-starred Paustian in Copenhagen in the early 2000’s and then opened the more casual Geist in 2011. He has appeared on a number of food TV programmes in Denmark and is also the author of ‘What Does Memory Taste Like’.

Killer recipes?  Pot roasted cauliflower with black truffle; turbot with fennel ravioli on gruyere; white asparagus heads with chocolate and stilton; lamb hearts with smoked red grapes and sorrel; potato mash with brown stone crab and salted butter.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? For the most part, Bech’s dishes are based around just a few ingredients and methods are explained in enough detail to be easily understood, certainly by professional chefs. There are however a number of instances where quantities are either vague or not given. In the recipe for crispy artichokes with suckling pig and black truffle, you are told to ‘heat a pot with grapeseed oil’ but no indication is given of the size of the pot or amount of oil while the gravlax recipe lists fennel pollen in the ingredients but doesn’t mention it in the method.

Is it good after bedtime reading reading? The recipes are punctuated with 15 fascinating ‘Stories’ that include everything from a facsimile of a note from a brainstorming session before the restaurant opened to ‘The Rage’, a short essay where Bech explains how his anger with certain ingredients (such as poor quality salmon) feeds into his creative drive and ultimately results in new dishes (fennel pollen gravlax served with a sauce made from the curing brine mixed with apple juice, mustard and bronze fennel).

 What will I love? In addition to Bech’s own expert food photography, the book is illustrated with beautiful watercolours and pencil drawings and printed on 120-gram paper stock which gives the book a very distinctive and luxurious look and feel.  The ten cocktail recipes, that include kombucha gin, unripe peach; and mezcal sour, gentle smoke of Mexico, are every bit as imaginative as the food.

What won’t I like? Bech has allocated eight of the book’s 344 pages to the reproduction of the full transcript of the commentary of The Rumble in the Jungle, the 1974 Foreman/Ali fight which plays in the restrooms in Geist. You will either find this endearingly eccentric or puzzlingly absurd, depending on how indulgent you feel towards the author.

Should I buy it? Bech is a chef with a truly individual creative voice which comes through loud and clear in both the recipes and the ‘Stories’. His minimalist plating style looks stunning on the page, every dish a work of art, and his writing gives real insight into what it means to be a chef in the 21st century, from both a creative and practical perspective. Well worth buying if you are interested in cutting edge cooking or in the business yourself.

Cuisine: Nordic/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
In My Blood by Bo Bech
DKK300 (about £36, plus shipping)from chefbobech.com/books

Pollen Street: The Cookbook by Jason Atherton

Pollen St_FULL TRADE v1.1

What’s the USP? After a string of books aimed at the home cook including Gourmet Food for a Fiver, Jason Atherton finally delivers the cookbook his peers have been waiting for; a collection of recipes from his flagship Michelin-starred London restaurant Pollen Street Social.

Who’s the author? Jason Atherton needs no introduction, but for readers who have been hiding under a rock for the last decade, Atherton is the chef that created and launched Maze for Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd, one of the group’s most successful concepts. In 2011, Atherton launched The Social Company which now boasts 15 restaurants worldwide from Hong Kong to New York and Dubai to Shanghai (with no less than seven of the group in London). He was also the first British chef to work at el Bulli and get paid for it, which is no mean feat.

What does it look like? From the cover reproduction of Ben Ashton’s Taste of Britain: The British Isles in Winter, an original artwork commissioned by Atherton to hang in Pollen Street Social restaurant, to John Carey’s beautiful food photography, Pollen Street is as classy and well stitched together as one of Atherton’s signature Saville Row suits. The pricey special edition is ‘luxuriously boxed and bound’ but is essentially the same book.

Is it good bedtime reading? At 400 odd pages, there is certainly the room for lots of Daniel Clifford-style revelations (which made that chef’s recent book Out of My Tree so exceptional) but Pollen Street is sadly lacking in engaging stories. There is just a single page introduction from Atherton and no introductions to the recipes which gives the book an impersonal feel, further accentuated by a series of short articles on Atherton’s favoured suppliers which are written by the suppliers themselves and which therefore inevitably read like marketing material that could have been cribbed from their websites.

Killer recipes?  There are outstanding dishes in each of the eight chapters (headed canapes, starters, shellfish, fish, meat and game, poultry and game birds, sweets and petit fours) including a ‘fish and chips’ canape of confit potato topped with taramasalata and salt and vinegar powder; a starter of pressed Norfolk quail with taco of the confit leg and truffle; St Austell Bay lobster with yuzu jam and savoury seaweed custard, and a classic game pithier with grouse, pheasant and wild mushrooms. Even the appendix of basics features a cracking recipe for pearl barley risotto that’s finished with mushroom puree and Madeira cream.

What will I love? That depends on your perspective. The recipes are presented in all their complex glory; no shortcuts or simplifications for home cooks here. Atherton recently said in an interview with the iPaper that he didn’t necessarily expect anyone to cook from the book, “I’ve not dumbed it down. Those are the recipes and some of them are damn bloody hard. Do you have three days of your life to waste making my mushroom tea? Probably not.” A recipe might run to six pages (including a double page spread photo) so that you get enough detail to attempt to reproduce Atherton’s tightly controlled, precise modern cooking in your own kitchen, if you’ve got the time, energy and funds (believe me, it ain’t going to be cheap to make these dishes).

What won’t I like? Although Pollen Street delivers Atherton’s high-end food, it delivers very little of the man himself. Who wouldn’t love to hear a blow by blow account of his time with Ramsay and how and why it all ended; about his days with Nico and Marco, Koffmann and Adria (all of whom have written glowing tributes to Atherton for the book) and how he has built an international restaurant empire. Maybe next time.

Should I buy it? Jason Atherton is unquestionably one of the most successful British-born, post-Ramsay chefs currently working today and a book of his flagship restaurant recipes is a must-buy, providing a vital record of mainstream modern British fine dining in the early 21st century and a benchmark for all ambitious chefs to strive towards.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Professional Chefs/ competent home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Pollen Street
£50, Absolute Press (Special boxed edition, £250)

From the Earth by Peter Gilmore

from the earth_final

What’s the USP? One chef’s obsession with heirloom vegetable varieties explored in recipes, detailed ingredient profiles and features on specialist growers.

 Who’s the author? Peter Gilmore is one of Australia’s leading chefs. His restaurant Quay overlooking Sydney Harbour has held Three Chef Hats in the Good Food Guide (the Australian equivalent of three Michelin stars) for 16 consecutive years and was listed for five years on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. He is also executive chef of Bennelong in the Sydney Opera House which holds Two Chef Hats.

What does it look like? Even by the uniformly high standards of modern cookbook production values, From The Earth  is something special. The book’s large format adds extra impact to Brett Stevens’s full page shots of Gilmore’s exquisitely presented dishes and the artfully arranged vegetable portraits that you’ll want to frame and hang on your wall.

 Killer recipes? Tartare of wagyu, fermented chilli, redmeat radishes; salad of violet de Provence artichoke; braise of Gagon cucumber, green-lipped abalone, shimonita onion; salad of raw trentino cabbage turnip with caper vinaigrette.

 What will I love? This is no veggie bandwagon jumping exercise. Gilmore has been a dedicated cultivator of rare heirloom varieties for more than a decade and really knows his stuff. He is passionately pro-biodiversity and anti-genetic modification but restrains himself to a few words on the subject in the introduction saying, ‘this book is not about the politics of food’ and lets his imaginative and creative dishes do the talking.

Ingredient profiles have been expertly put together by Gilmore’s wife Kathryn, who spent ‘countless hours researching each featured vegetable, referencing and cross-referencing information on species, origin and history’. All that work shows in the detailed and fascinating finished product. Want to know about the history of radish cultivation? Look no further (the Egyptians got there first in 2000 BC apparently).

 The four grower profiles that include provide an interesting insight onto Australia’s specialist produce scene and are illustrated with photographs that show the Aussie landscape in all its rugged glory.

What won’t I like? By its very nature, From The Earth presents all but the most dedicatedly green fingered chef with the problem of sourcing the raw ingredients for many of the recipes. You may not be able to easily get your hands on Cherokee White Eagle corn, Gete Okosomin squash or Kyoto red carrots but you will want to cook the delicious sounding dishes so, as Gilmore points out, you can ‘use the recipes as a starting point to experiment with all sorts of varieties’ while you grow your own crops or convince a supplier to do so for you.

Should I buy it? Informative, inspiring and stunning to look at, From The Earth is a fresh take on  vegetable cultivation and cookery that could well have an impact on how you serve vegetables in your restaurant. It’s also a lovely, aesthetically pleasing object that will be catnip to all cookbook enthusiasts. How can you resist?

Cuisine: Australian/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
From the Earth: World’s Great, Rare and Almost Forgotten Vegetables
£ 35, Hardie Grant

Andre Simon awards special feature: An interview with chairman Nick Lander

nick lander at vinoteca kc cropped

Nick Lander is the restaurant correspondent of the Financial Times, author and hospitality expert. His first book, The Art of The Restaurateur became an Economist Book of The Year in 2012. He is the former proprietor of L’Escargot in Soho and has acted as a hospitality consultant to arts organisations across London including The Southbank Centre; the British Museum; and the Royal Albert Hall among many others.  He consulted on the food and beverage offering at the restored St Pancras International station and for the  development of King’s Cross, the 67 acre site that is currently the biggest single urban regeneration project in Europe.

 

When did you first get involved with the Andre Simon Awards?

Twenty years ago. I was a food book assessor then after two years they made me a trustee and when Julian Cotterell, my predecessor passed away I became chairman.

What are your responsibilities as chairman of the awards?

That depends on who you ask! The principle one is to monitor and make sure that the Andre Simon memorial fund doesn’t spend too much of its money on the awards, that’s the slightly dry side. The real job is to navigate the ship and listen to everybody’s opinions. I am involved in producing the short list, but I defer to the assessors. My job is more informal; providing lunch and a wrapping up speech on 5 February at the ceremony and ensuring we stay solvent.

I think the system we have of one food and one drink book assessor is absolutely fantastic because it minimises committees. A lot of these awards they have, they bring in the good and the great and everybody has an opinion and the lowest common denominator tends to dominate rather than the actual winner. The list of nine food books and six drink books we’ve got this year is probably the broadest and eclectic and wide ranging and interesting that we’ve ever had, and that’s nothing to do with me.

How have cookbooks change in the 20 years you’ve been involved in the awards.

I think they’re much more detailed and because the general cookbook has been so well covered in the past, nascent writers have to look for a subject and, like everything today, it’s becoming harder and harder to find an undiscovered topic. The idea that there’s a book on Shetland or the Black Sea is a reflection of that, and the Pie and Mash book too, which I think is a great read. The idea of Jill Norman or anybody else’s cookbook being definitive, those days are finished, and authors are having to search for slightly recherche but actually very interesting topics.

What impact does the awards have on British food and drink writing?

That’s a very difficult question, because the book trade is so odd, speaking as an author myself. We’ve tried all kinds of things to publicise the awards; stickers, moving the dates of the selection before Christmas so that the books could be highlighted in the run up. I’m not sure any of that actually works. I think the prestige comes after the award to the winner; nice cheque and the prestige to the publishers. It must be a huge pat on the back to the production team because production values are really important to Andre Simon.

How is food writing viewed by critics in the UK, do you think it get taken seriously enough?

There are so many books published and literary editors are swamped, so there’s no real room for food and drinks books other than at Christmas, which I think is a bit odd, we don’t eat and drink just at Christmas. I’d like to see more scope given to coverage of food and drink books.

Despite the many cookbooks already on the shelves, is there a cookbook you’d like to see that hasn’t yet been written?

I still hanker after something that brings food and wine together in one cookbook, I think that would be quite interesting; not matching, but just thoughts on cooking and choosing wine, but I don’t know of anybody who could do that.

And finally, do you have an all-time favourite cookbook?

The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews by Edda Servi Machlin, which Elizabeth David introduced me to, is a fantastic cookbook. And any fish cookbook from Rick Stein to whoever, I just marvel at what they can do with fish.

To read more about the Andre Simon Awards click on the logo below

andre simon logo

Andre Simon Awards special feature: an interview with Meera Sodha

meera sodha andre simon food assessor 2018 c. david loftus

Chef, food writer and author Meera Sodha is the independent assessor of the food category for the 2018 Andre Simon Food and Drink book awards.

Born in Lincolnshire to Ugandan Indian parents, her love for her ancestors’ food and a desire to keep their food traditions alive led her to capture her mother’s recipes from her childhood in her first cookbook Made in India, which was published by Figtree, Penguin in July 2014 It became a top 10 best seller and was named a book of the year by The Times and the Financial Times. Her second book, Fresh India, published July 2016 is a celebration of India’s love of vegetables.

She writes a regular column for Associated Press and writes (or have written) occasionally for Food 52, Borough Market, The Pool and The Guardian and you can follow her on instagram and twitter.

How did you get involved with the awards? 

My first two books, Made in India and Fresh India were both shortlisted so I’ve been lucky enough to come to the awards twice, meet the team and enjoy the company of so many interesting and influential voices in the world of food. I’ve have always loved how the awards is for the writers and by the writers and that every year, the shortlist throws up books I have never heard of and immediately want to buy. So when I got asked to be the independent assessor, I jumped at the opportunity.

What are your responsibilities as independent assessor?

I have the job of taking a very long list down to a shortlist and then ultimately to a few winners. Quite a daunting prospect once I realised just how books the postman was going to be delivering to me.

How many books did you have to read in order to come up with the shortlist?

I don’t know exactly but I would guess that I have received around 150 books. It shows just how the how highly publishers and writers view the awards. At times it’s been overwhelming – but through the process I’ve got to do what I love doing most, immersing myself in great writing and great cookbooks.

What does it take for a book to make it onto the shortlist. What are you looking for in a food book to make it a potential winner?

I look for a few things:

Originality – is this a book that takes a refreshing new angle on something or opens up a new world to the reader?

Knowledge – does the writer have a firm grasp and passion for their chosen subject?

Enduring – Is this a book of the moment or a future classic that we will be talking about for years to come?

Coherent – Is there a powerful core theme that runs through the book that I can identify?

Enjoyment – Does it make me feel something and how easy is it to put down?

As an author of food books, how do you feel about judging your peers?

It’s a real honour and very exciting but I also feel a strong sense of responsibility. As a writer, I know how much it takes to write a book and how challenging it can feel to not only get something done but create something that you are genuinely proud of. With every book I have read during the judging, I have tried to put myself in the author’s shoes and understand their journey and motivations for writing the book. Whether they’re a big name or an unknown name, I have tried to treat them all equally and focus on the quality of what they have produced.

What are your top three all-time food books, either Andre Simon awards shortlisted, winners or otherwise?  

I’ve loved the books produced by recent winners Mark Diacono’s Otter Farm, Rachel Roddy’s Five Quarters, Fuscia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice and Stephen Harris’ The Sportsman. Sorry, that’s the previous four.

 What do you think about the current food writing scene in general, do you think we are in a golden age of food writing right now?

 I think of it less as a golden age and more as a scene that has just continually gets better and better over the years. A bit like the broader food world in the UK. There are now such a variety of voices writing brilliantly about such an amazing variety of topics that with each year that passes, the food writing world becomes richer and more interesting.  It’s a fantastic time to be a reader – the only problem is choosing which book to read(!)

Is there a food book that doesn’t exist that you think needs to be written (and who should write it)?

Cooking in out of space. Might be a few years until we see it…

Do you think that food writing should be considered as ‘literature’ – do you think it gets taken seriously enough by critics?

I don’t mind what it is classed as, I’m more interested in how good it is and how much people are reading it. Anecdotally, I do feel as though food writing is something more people are starting to enjoy and understand. Recently, I was buoyed to see in Daunt Books that the main book being promoted throughout the store was MFK Fishers ‘Consider The Oyster’ – perhaps a book that years ago would have been hidden away in a dusty corner.

Black Sea by Caroline Eden

black sea by caroline eden

What’s the USP? According to the book’s back cover blurb, ‘With a nose for a good recipe and an ear for an extraordinary story, Caroline Eden travels from Odessa to Bessarabia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey’s Black Sea region, exploring interconnecting culinary cultures’.

Who’s the author? Caroline Eden is a writer and journalist specialising in the former Soviet Union. Her first book Samarkand – recipes and stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus appeared in 2016 and was named Guardian book of the year and won Guild of Food Writers ‘Food and Travel’ award in 2017.

What does it look like? With a stylish, iridescent cover, evocative location photography and rustic-chic food shots, Black Sea has bags of character a distinctive look and feel worthy of its road-less-travelled subject matter.

Is it good bedtime reading? Black sea is as much a travelogue, a narrative of a journey,  as it is a recipe book, so this is definitely one for the bedside table. Eden deftly mixes history and with her first-hand travel experiences to build up a vivid picture of the region, it’s people and its cuisine.

Killer recipes? Ardie Umpluti (Romanian stuffed yellow peppers); afternoon Zelnick pie (chad, spinach and filo pie from Bulgaria); citrus-cured mackerel with gherkins from Istanbul; black sesame challah; Navy Day Covrigi (apricot stuffed buns from Romania).

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Given that Waitrose stocks the pul biber (Turkish pepper flakes) you’ll need to make Eden’s version of ‘Cornershop pilaf’ from Kastamonu with bulgar wheat, loads of herbs, spinach and cherry tomatoes and that the date syrup required for baked sesame halva can be found on most supermarket shelves, you should have no problems finding the means to make these dishes. Where the authentic ingredient is difficult for those outside of the region to track down, Eden has provided a more convenient alternative such as pecorino for the more obscure Romanian Kashkavel required for Shepherd’s Bulz (Romanian cornmeal and cheese baked dumplings).

What’s the faff factor? Although some of the recipes are inspired by dishes eaten in restaurants, this is homely cooking. Ingredients lists are mostly short and concise and cooking methods simple and straightforward.

How often will I cook from the book? Although the cuisines covered in the book may be unfamiliar to many readers (and is certainly less storied that many other European regions), the spicy, herby flavours – sometimes fresh, sometimes comforting – are very accessible and you might easily find yourself reaching for Black Sea when you fancy something just a little bit different for a mid-week meal or a dinner party.

What will I love? This is a well researched and written book that will have you planning your own trips to the region. If your interest is really peaked, Eden has supplied a comprehensive list of further reading, alongside the books, newspapers, journals, websites and magazines consulted while writing Black Sea that should keep you busy for many months.

What won’t I like? I honestly can’t imagine.

Should I buy it? If you like food, travel, cooking (and if you don’t, why are you reading this blog?) this is the book for you.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginners/competent home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes – Through Darkness and Light

£25, Quadrille

andre simon logo
This book has been shortlisted for the 2018 Andre Simon award. Click the logo to read reviews of all the shortlisted books.

Coming soon: André Simon Awards special feature

andre simon logo

On 5 February 2019, the 40th annual André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards will be presented at a reception in central London. In the run-up to the big night, cookbookreview.blog is delighted to be able to bring you reviews of each to the eight books shortlisted in the food category along with interviews with this year’s independent assessor of the food award, chef, food writer and author, Meera Sodha and André Simon chairman Nick Lander.

Click here to go to the new dedicated André Simon page where you will be able to access all the content as it appears.

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The shortlisted food books for 2018 are:

  • Black Sea
    by Caroline Eden (Quadrille Publishing)
  • First, Catch
    by Thom Eagle (Quadrille Publishing)
  • How to Eat a Peach
    by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley)
  • Lateral Cooking
    by Niki Segnit (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • MOB Kitchen
    by Ben Lebus (Pavilion Books)
  • Pasta, Pane, Vino
    by Matt Goulding (Hardie Grant Publishing)
  • Pie and Mash Down the Roman Road
    by Melanie McGrath (Two Roads)
  • Shetland
    by James & Tom Morton (Quadrille Publishing)
  • Together
    by The Hubb Community Kitchen (Ebury Press)

We won’t be reviewing the shortlisted drink books, but we’re sure they will be well worth investigating:

  • Amber Revolution
    by Simon J Woolf (Morning Claret Productions)
  • Flawless
    by Jamie Goode (University of California Press)
  • Red & White
    by Oz Clarke (Little Brown Book Group)
  • The Life of Tea
    by Michael Freeman & Timothy D’Offay (Mitchell Beazley)
  • The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste
    by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay (Ten Speed Press)
  • Vineyards, Rocks and Soils
    by Alex Maltman (Oxford University Press)

A Very Serious Cookbook by Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske

Very serious cookbook

What’s the USP? In an act of post-modernist, self-reflexive irony, Phaidon, famous for publishing very serious cookbooks by the likes of Magnus Nilsson of Faviken and Dan Hunter of Brae have published a not entirely serious cookbook and called it A Very Serious Cookbook.

Who are the authors? Two young chefs who run the acclaimed Lower East Side restaurants, Contra, which has a Michelin star, and its wine bar sibling Wildair and who have serious CVs; Fabian von Hauske (formerly of Noma and Faviken) and Jeremiah Stone (who worked for Giovanni Passerini in Paris and helped Ignacio Mattos open Isa in Brooklyn). Stone and von Hauske embody the ‘bistronomy’ movement of fine cuisine served in relaxed surroundings and incorporate many of the tropes of modern progressive cooking including dashi, fermented items and a sense of abandon when it comes to mashing up culinary traditions.

What does it look like? You might call the book design ‘urban chic’ if you couldn’t think of a better phrase. Recipe titles look like they’ve been scrawled on the page with a black sharpie, the text is printed on pink, green and beige (as well as plain white) paper and there’s plenty of double-page kitchen action photography alongside the moody overhead food shots.

Is it good bedtime reading? Underpinning the comedic aspects of the book (see below) is the urge to be honest and tell the relatively short story of Contra and Wildair (opened in 2013 and 2015) warts and all; the personal tensions between the two chefs, a stinging review, the dishes that didn’t quite make it are all included.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? A number of recipes will demand a fair amount of effort on behalf of home cooks to source ingredients like tuna bones, unseasoned grain vinegar and fresh hearts of palm (all necessary to make ‘Tuna, onion, tomato’) so you might need to make some carefully considered substitutions to make the book work for you.

What’s the faff factor? There are some relatively straightforward dishes like ‘Beef, paparras, umeboshi’ which is basically steak served with pickled Basque peppers and flavoured butter, but many recipes are very process-heavy and more suited to a restaurant rather than the home kitchen.

How often will I cook from the book? Unless you are a professional chef, A Very Serious Cookbook will be reserved for weekend kitchen project cooking or as a source of inspiration for your own simplified dishes.

Killer recipes? Littleneck clam, almond milk, XO; oyster, lapsang souchong; shrimp, yuba (the skin of heated soymilk), turnip; pommes darphin, uni, jalapeno; strawberry, charred milk.

What will I love? There’s plenty of New York attitude that may or may not be played for laughs. A list of ‘things that are important to know about the dessert recipes’ includes ‘No fruit sorbets. Ever’ (von Hauske, who worked as a pastry chef for Jean George Vongerichten, prefers the purity of a granita made with very little sugar) and a claim that ‘people treat microgreens like s**t’. A ‘recipe’ for Stone’s secret XO sauce lacks quantities and a proper method, and an entire chapter called Never dedicated to dishes that have either never appeared on their menus or ‘did once and never again’.

What won’t I like? This is primarily a snapshot of a pair of New York restaurants in 2018; the food, the people and the history and philosophy behind them. It has patently not be created to supply you with ideas for last-minute mid-week meals.

Should I buy it? Distinctive and engaging, the book will be particularly inspiring to chefs who are planning to or simply daydreaming about opening their first restaurant.

Cuisine: American/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
A Very Serious Cookbook: Contra Wildair
£35, Phaidon

Rogan: The Cookbook

Rogan Jacket

What’s the USP? A cookbook that many chefs in the UK and around the world have been waiting for; the print debut of Simon Rogan, one of the most highly regarded British chefs of the last decade.

Who’s the author? Simon Rogan needs no introduction as the two Michelin-starred chef/patron of L’Enclume in the chocolate box village of Cartmel in the Lake District which he opened in 16 years ago and where he also runs the more casual Rogan & Co. Rogan opened Aulis, an 8-seater chefs table and development kitchen in Soho in 2017 (a sister to the original Aulis development kitchen in Cartmel), closely followed by the second coming of Roganic, originally launched as two year pop up in 2011 and now a permanent restaurant in Marylebone. Rogan was the opening chef of Fera at Claridges hotel and relaunched The French at the Midland hotel in Manchester. His style of cooking, that draws heavily on locally foraged ingredients and organic vegetables from his own farm just outside Cartmel and the use of cutting-edge culinary equipment such as rotary evaporators, has been hugely influential.

What does it look like? At 28.5cm by 24cm, Rogan will stand proud of many other cookbooks on your shelf, and at over 300 pages, it constitutes a weighty tome. The look is very ‘green and pleasant’ in the Blakeian sense of the phrase with lots of double page spreads of stunning Lake District scenery and Rogan himself at work on Our Farm, harvesting turnips and radishes or out foraging on the shoreline at Grange-Over-Sands that’s close to L’Enclume.

Is it good after service reading? Rogan espouses his culinary philosophy in an extended introduction (‘in these days of overconsumption on a global scale, I believe we need to step back and appreciate what our local area offers us’) and tells the story of developing his farm. Articles on key ingredients such as Herdwick lamb, scallops and Tunworth cheese are dotted through out the book and recipe introductions include useful and interesting information such as ‘Meadowsweet flowers have an extraordinary honey almond scent that makes a wonderful flavouring for mousses and yoghurts’.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? As long as you are happy to go picking things like ox-eye daisies (they grow everywhere in June, from ‘roadside verges as well as in domestic gardens’ according to Rogan), mugwort and ramson leaves, then you’re golden. Rogan specifies varieties of veg such as Simane onions, Aquadulce broad beans and pigeon cabbage which, unless you cultivate them yourself, you may have problems tracking down, although you can get away with substituting more common types. Just don’t let Simon Rogan find out.

What’s the faff factor? Some of the dishes are dauntingly complex for the home cook; a scallop starter involves three preparations served in separate vessels including raw scallops with cider vinegar gel, a bouillon made from the scallop skirts and gooseberry tart with scallop roe. Others, such as roast cod with kelp butter sauce are far more approachable and could be knocked up for a mid-week dinner.

How often will I cook from the book? There is no question that Rogan: The Cookbook is aimed at serious home cooks (and, it goes without saying, professional chefs) and for the most part will be the sort of book you reach for when you are in the mood for a bit of a project.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There is the odd ‘drizzle of rapeseed oil’, ‘lemon juice, to taste’ and ‘pinch of chilli flakes’ but for the most part, accurate weights and measures are given and the methods are clear and easy to follow.

Killer recipes? Rogan has included some old L’Enclume favourites including the ridiculously titled Chick O Hake (hake loin wrapped in chicken skin and served with chervil root puree); roasted carrots with ham fat; Cubes from Land and Sea with eucalyptus hollandaise (a combination of lobster, sweetbread and girolles that critic Victor Lewis Smith once described as looking like ‘the inside of a Dalek’) and the grilled smoked salad over embers that he prepared for the Great British Menu TV series in 2012.

What will I love? Rogan feels like a labour of love, the distillation of sixteen years of knowledge and expertise developed during the evolution of L’Enclume (plus Rogan’s career beforehand that included several years at the three Michelin starred Lucas Carton in Paris) and the food looks distinctive, beautiful and extremely appetising.

What won’t I like? If you want your food to taste as good as Rogan’s, ideally, you’ll need to move to the Lake District and open an organic farm, or at least start an allotment there. The good news however is that many of the dishes are perfectly achievable without going to such extreme lengths.

Should I buy it? This book may have been a long time coming, but it’s worth the wait with much to read, techniques to master, ingredients to discover and ideas to explore.  A new classic and a must own.

Cuisine: Modern progressive 
Suitable for: 
Professional chefs/Confident home cooks 
Cookbook Review Rating:
5

Buy this book
Rogan
£30, HarperCollinsPublishers

Cook from this book
Radish stew
Smoked lamb shoulder
Quince tart with gingerbread ice cream

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

51V-LRn5VJL

What’s the USP? According to the publishers, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is ‘The last cookbook you’ll ever need’, so by reviewing it, I’m risking consigning this blog to the dustbin of history. But of course, it’s not the last cookbook you’ll ever need; we all need new cookbooks all the time, one a day if possible (addicted, me? I beg your pardon!). What the book does, however, is attempt to codify the fundamentals of cooking so that the reader is freed, if they so wish to be, from the (delightful) tyranny of the recipe.   

Who is the author? Samin Nosrat is a writer, teacher and chef who has gone from working at Alice Water’s legendary Californian restaurant Chez Panisse to a being a culinary star thanks to the Netflix serialization of Salt, Fat Acid, Heat, her first book.

What does it look like? A great big comforting block of a book (it runs to over 470 pages) with a very distinctive look, from Rafaela Romaya’s eye-catching graphic cover design (illustrating what I’m assuming to be salt, fat, acid and heat at a molecular level) to Wendy MacNaughton’s charming colour hand-drawn illustrations (apart from headshots of Nosrat and MacNaughton, there are no photographs in the book).

Is it good bedtime reading? Divided into two halves, part one ‘The Four Elements of Good Cooking’ is nothing but bedtime, or anytime reading (part two is where you’ll find all the recipes). Four chapters explore Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat in turn, using Nosrat’s own experience cooking in professional kitchens and her culinary travels, mixed in with a dollop of easily understandable basic science and a generous helping of common sense to explain what cooking is and how you can understand the knowledge that will allow you to acquire the skill of cooking.   

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Nosrat takes a truly international approach to her subject, including recipes for anything from Vietnamese cucumber salad to classic American chicken pot pie with plenty of Italian pasta dishes along the way (not to mention food from North Africa, Mexico, Lebanon and on and on…), so inevitably you will come up against an ingredient or two that you might have to hunt around for, depending on how well you are served in your area by Asian supermarkets and other specialist suppliers. That said, the vast majority of recipes in the book should pose you no problem at all in the ingredients department.

What’s the faff factor? This is a book all about cooking, so expect to be doing a lot of it. The idea here is to learn and explore the techniques of cooking: braising, streaming, frying in all its forms, smoking, making stocks and sauces, baking etc. so don’t expect too many ‘meals-in-minutes’ (although the currently very trendy Roman pasta dish of Cacio e Pepe – spaghetti with pecorino cheese and loads of black pepper – literally takes only minutes to prepare). Nosrat is all about doing things properly, and not ‘cheffy’ flourishes. You won’t find yourself making endless fiddly garnishes that are best left to restaurant cooks, but you will need to be organized enough to marinate a chicken overnight to make Nosrat’s signature buttermilk-marinated roast chicken and then knock up a panzanella (Tuscan bread and tomato salad) to accompany it.

How often will I cook from the book? Despite the ‘cookery-course-in-a-single-volume’ conceit, this is not a book you will work through and then never look at again. The breadth and variety of recipes mean Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will provide inspiration for meals any time of the week, and for special occasions, for years to come.

Killer recipes? Those already mentioned above plus pork braised with chillies; chicken and garlic soup; spicy cima di rapa with ricotta salata; Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake; classic apple pie and many more.

What will I love? The look and feel of the book; it’s scope and ambition, the enthusiasm and care in the writing, the fact that you’re virtually getting two books (a 200-page treatise on cooking and a 200-page recipe book) for the price of one and the chance to hear a fresh new voice in food writing.

What won’t I like? As with any book that attempts to ‘deconstruct’ the practice of cooking or explain the underlying science behind cooking techniques, you may be left with the feeling of, so what? Do we need to understand that salt works by osmosis and diffusion or will the recipe for spicy brined turkey breast suffice? As a home cook of 35 years, it is interesting to see the subject from another angle but I’m not sure I’m a better cook for having read the book.

Although I loved the idea of the double-page fold-out charts and graphs, I’m not convinced of their practicality. If I consult ‘The World of Flavour’ wheel to check which ingredients I should be using when I’m cooking a dish from Argentina and Uruguay (parsley, oregano, chilli, paprika) what do I do with that information if I don’t already know that cuisine well? Unless I then refer to a recipe, which then makes the wheel redundant. From the ‘Ph of almost everything in Samin’s kitchen’ diagram, we ‘learn’ that lime is more acidic than black coffee; ‘the Avocado Matrix’ only serves to make something very simple – variations of avocado salad – head-spinningly complex, and I gave up trying to interpret the faintly ludicrous colour coded ‘Vegetables: How and When’ chart that seems to say that it’s OK to blanch potatoes but not sauté them – what!?

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat wouldn’t be the same book without MacNaughton’s lovely illustrations, but sometimes the accuracy of a photograph would have been welcome and more helpful; the drawings of how an egg changes minute by minute as it’s boiled are difficult to distinguish between, especially between 6 and 10 minutes, and the ‘Knife Cuts to Scale’ illustration is a little confusing; how thin actually are those thin slices of celery, and why is crumbled feta included at all (surely you do that with your fingers and not a knife?).

Should I buy it? Despite the reservations listed above, there is much to like about the book and it will be of particular value to those just starting out on their culinary adventure.  

Cuisine: International
Suitable for:
Beginner cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
4

Buy this book
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking: The Four Elements of Good Cooking

Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi

Simple Ottolenghi

What’s the USP? The publishing phenomenon that is Yotam Ottolenghi returns with a seventh volume of his signature Middle Eastern-inflected food but this time, with colour-coded, simplified recipes for cooks who are short on time or just plain lazy.

Who’s the author? Ottolenghi is a world-famous cookery writer and restaurateur who has almost single-handedly brought Middle Eastern cuisine into the mainstream (although he would no doubt acknowledge the importance of ground-breaking writers such as Claudia Roden who wrote the definitive Book of Middle Eastern Food back in 1972). He runs NOPI and ROVI restaurants in London, alongside a group of four Ottolenghi deli’s dotted around the capital. He has filmed two series of Mediterranean Feasts for Channel 4 and Jerusalem on a Plate for the BBC.

What does it look like? Colourful. From the big lemon on the cover to the bright chapter headers (aubergine purple for Cooked Veg, marine blue for Fish, each accompanied by a charming graphic) and of course the always vibrant, multi-hued food, the book will bring a little ray of sunshine into your kitchen whatever the weather outside. And then there’s the six-step ‘traffic light’ recipe colour-coding using the acronym SIMPLE – an orange ‘S’ for ‘short on time’, a yellow ‘I’ for ‘ingredients: 10 or less’, a green M for ‘make ahead’, a blue P for ‘pantry’, a light green L for ‘lazy’ and a red ‘E’ for ‘easier than you think’.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is a straight up recipe book with an introduction that explains how the colour coding works and short recipe introductions that are often breezy, chatty and mostly about serving suggestions or alternative ingredients. A book for when you are looking for inspiration to cook rather than recreational reading.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Ottolenghi has been good enough to credit his two co-authors, food writer Tara Wigley and chef and recipe tester Esme Howarth and, between the three of them, they have produced a book of carefully written recipes that even give weights for herbs instead of ‘bunches’ or ‘handfuls’ and unusually, specify many ingredients by both number and weight, so you know for example that 2 small onions should equal about 250g. It’s a very useful and practical feature and one that should make the book particularly appealing to less confident cooks.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You shouldn’t have any problems tracking down everything you need, but if you do get stuck, good old Ottolenghi has his own web store, stocked with everything from black glutinous rice to dried sour cherries that will get you out of any purchasing hole. Handy eh?

What’s the faff factor? For a book titled Simple, there are a fair-few long ingredient lists and complicated methods.

How often will I cook from the book? Simple is one of those rare cookbooks where you’ll want to try every recipe so there’s no danger that it will sit sad and unused on your shelf.

Killer recipes? Standouts include gem lettuce with herby avocado and tahini ‘fridge-raid’ dressing that is bound to become part of your standard repertoire, and a wicked hazelnut, peach and raspberry cake that’s a cinch to make but tastes like your pastry chef sweated hours over it.

What will I love? The useful directory of  ‘Ottolenghi’ ingredients like sumac, za’atar and urfa chilli flakes that help define his cooking; the meal and feast suggestions that will help you plan your cooking, and the book’s upbeat, approachable style. A unique code is printed at the back of the book which gives access to a fully searchable online version of Simple which means you can cook from the book via your phone or tablet (or laptop) when you are away from home (or even if you are at home but don’t want to get pomegranate molasses stains on the pages of your beautiful new cookbook).

What won’t I like? Although the SIMPLE colour coding is a nice conceit, I’m not convinced of its practical use. A more straightforward indication of time to prepare and cook the dishes would be more useful in deciding which recipe to cook on any given day. And not all the recipes are even that simple; slow cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust for example has 16 ingredients and requires you to separate eggs, whisk up the whites and fold back into a corn batter to make the crust, in addition to a two-stage cooking process that will take well over an hour and half to complete (that said, the dish does look well worth the effort).

Should I buy it? If you are new to Ottolenghi, this is an excellent place to start and if you are a converted fan then you will want to add this to your collection.

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Ottolenghi SIMPLE

Cook from this book
Braised eggs
Iranian herb fritters
Slow cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust

Jamie Cooks Italy by Jamie Oliver

Jamie Cooks Italy jacket (1)

What’s the USP? According to the author’s introduction, it’s ‘your go-to Italian book, a manual of deliciousness’. According to recent reports in the press, it’s part of a carefully planned strategy to help shore up the ailing Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain. Jon Knight, chief executive of the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group was quoted as saying that, “We lost touch with Jamie, there was a growing disconnect between what Jamie was doing on TV and in his books – people weren’t experiencing that in the restaurants”. So, what better way to realign Jamie’s Italian the restaurant with Jamie the chef than a TV series and cookbook tie-in all about Italy?

Who’s the author? You might have heard of Jamie Oliver. He’s the chef that was recently accused of cultural appropriation for selling ‘Punchy Jerk Rice’ in supermarkets (even though there’s no such thing as jerk rice) and caused outrage with his attempts to curb junk food advertising and extend the sugar tax with accusations of taking food out of poor people’s mouths and hypocrisy, given that his Jamie’s Diner restaurant in Gatwick Airport serves burgers and shakes. He’s also one of the most famous chefs in the world who helped revolutionise food on TV with his debut series The Naked Chef in the 90’s and has a long track record of philanthropy. So, take your pick.

What does it look like? Bold, bright and colourful, there’s nothing subtle about this book. Long-time collaborator David Loftus’s photos seem supersaturated with Sicilian (and many other Italian regions) sun and even the recipe titles are printed in a vibrant sunshine yellow.

Is it great bedtime reading? Not really. A brief introduction and the pen pictures of the various Nonna’s that Oliver has tapped up for recipes on his travels around Italy are brief, superficial and not particularly well written.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?
As ever, a Jamie Oliver recipe is all about accessibility so you’ll have no problem finding pretty much everything you need, bar the odd grouper or rabbit with its offal intact, at the supermarket

What’s the faff factor?
The preparation times given for the wide range of recipes in the book start at 15 minutes to knock up golden breaded tuna with Aeolian spaghetti with lemon, capers, pecorino, chilli and herbs to five hours plus marinating overnight for ‘wildest boar ragu’ so the ‘faff factor’ really depends on whether you feel life’s too short to stuff your own agnolotti.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes?
If you’re expecting Jamie to be all gor-blimey-guv’ner-bish-bosh-bash-glug-of-oil-matey you’ll be disappointed; even half a bunch of flat leaf parsley is given an indicative weight (15g if you’re interested).

How often will I cook from the book?
This is a something-for-every-occasion sort of book which you may easily find yourself reaching for mid-week for a simple supper or for a weekend of pasta making and baking.

Killer recipes? Semolina teardrop dumplings from the Aosta Valley in Northwest Italy (a sort of spätzle, traditional to the Walsers community in Italy that has Swiss and German roots); baked risotto pie with sweet spicy squash and oozy cheeses; panissa rice with smoked pancetta, cured meats, borlotti beans, tomatoes and red wine, and many others

What will I love? There is no question that Italy is Oliver’s greatest inspiration (watch the Jamie’s Italy or Jamie Cooks Italy TV series and you can see pure joy in his face) and thanks to that TV budget, he and his team have been able to research the recipes first hand, so this is no hastily thrown-together cash in.

What won’t I like? Oliver has a very distinctive food writing voice, one that bursts with enthusiasm and which never leaves a hyperbolic statement unturned; you’ll either love it or it will grate. If you don’t appreciate the flavour of rosemary being described as ‘genius deep savouriness’ then you might want to turn to more level-headed writers like Anna Del Conte or Elizabeth David for your Italian fix.

Should I buy it? Does the world need another Jamie Oliver cookbook, especially another Jamie Oliver cookbook on Italian food, especially given that he published the excellent Jamie’s Italy back in 2005? In fact, there is very little, if any crossover between the two books, quite a feat given that together they run to more than 700 pages. Oliver divides opinion, but if you are a fan, and I am, then this is a welcome 21st addition to the chef’s ever-growing canon.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Jamie Cooks Italy
£26, Michael Joseph

Chicken and Charcoal by Matt Abergel

Chicken and Charcoal

What’s the USP? Everything you every wanted to know about yakitori (Japanese-style skewered and grilled chicken) plus a whole lot more you didn’t even know you wanted to know.

Who’s the author? Matt Abergel is the skateboarding chef and owner of cult Hong Kong restaurant Yardbird that has helped put yakitori on the global culinary map. This is his first cookbook.

What does it look like? A crazy, but beautifully designed, mash-up of an art catalogue, lifestyle magazine and instruction manual. There’s artworks by Yardbird logo designer Evan Hecox; articles on the restaurant’s designer chairs and branded products that include Yardbird Vans skateboarding sneakers and a line of sake and a profile of Yardbird co-owner Lindsay Jang.

But the ‘meat’ (pun intended) of the book is a series of detailed step by step instructions and recipes for butchering a chicken ready for skewering (and that means really butchering the thing down to its last tiny constituent parts including the thyroid and gizzard) and every type of yakitori you can imagine from fillet and thigh to ventricle and soft knee bone.

Is it good bedtime reading? Settle in with a Horlicks and the 40-odd page introductory section with profiles, interviews and articles.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? How good is your butcher? If you want to cook some of the more recherché recipes in the book like Thyroid skewers you’ll need to find one that will supply you whole chickens with head and organs intact. Good luck with that. You will also need to find a very good Asian grocer or specialist Japanese store for items such as Okinawan black sugar and Chinkiang black rice vinegar.

What’s the faff factor? Correctly butchering your whole chicken, should you be able to get hold of one, will take some practice and there’s a lot of fiddly skewering to be done. Some of the ‘smaller’ and ‘bigger’ dishes require a large number of ingredients and a fair amount of preparation.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Measurements are precise – no pinch of this or glug of that – and the methods are detailed and clear. The recipe for Chicken Katsu that is meant to appear on page 174 is however so vague that it has actually completely disappeared from the book.

How often will I cook from the book? Much of the food will be time-consuming to prepare so this is one for the weekend.

Killer recipes? Aside from the yakitori recipes, the chapter on ‘smaller’ snacking dishes includes mushroom salad with mizuna, watercress and wasabi and the ‘Yardbird Caesar’ that’s made with Chinese cabbage, mizuna and nori and a dressing that includes miso, roasted garlic and rice vinegar, while ‘bigger’ dishes include KFC (Korean fried cauliflower) and scotch egg with cabbage, tonkatsu sauce and Kewpie mayo.

What will I love? The sheer attention to detail, the elegant look and all the little extras like the cocktail and highball recipes and a staff Q&A profiling the people behind the restaurant. A lot of love, time and effort has obviously gone into the book making it a rewarding experience both to read and use in the kitchen.

What won’t I like? The full-page, black and white close-up photo of raw chicken skin on page 90 is both gnarly and vaguely obscene.

Should I buy it? If you are interested in Japanese cooking and want the definitive last word on yakitori or are just interested in what’s happening in the modern Hong Kong restaurant scene or just love a well put together cookbook then Chicken and Charcoal is well worth owning.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks9
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Chicken and Charcoal: Yakitori, Yardbird, Hong Kong
£24.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book
KFC (Korean Fried Cauliflower)
Eggplant Salad with Pickled Garlic and Ginger Tosazu

On Vegetables by Jeremy Fox

On Vegetables by Jeremy Fox

What’s the USP? As the title suggests, it’s a book all about how to cook vegetables written by a leading American chef.

Jeremy who?  UK readers may not be familiar with the name, but American chef Jeremy Fox made quite a splash in the States back in 2007 with Ubuntu restaurant in Napa, California.  The San Francisco Chronicle said the restaurant was ‘truly extraordinary.’ and that Fox was ‘taking vegetable-based cuisine to a new level’. Food and Wine magazine named him ‘Best New Chef’, the New York Times called the restaurant the second best in America and Michelin awarded a star.  Fox is currently head chef and part owner of Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica where he continues to champion vegetables, (as well as serving up carnivorous delights like bone-in pork chop, babaganoush, beylik roasted tomato, fennel and olives).

What does it look like? Fox’s food somehow manages to be both elegant and minimal and homely and comforting at the same time. The pared-back food styling features beautiful crockery often shot against plain white backgrounds, letting the dishes speak for themselves, and what they say loud and clear is ‘Eat Me’.

Is it good bedtime reading? Fox tells his personal story – an award-winning chef wracked with anxiety and depression – with unbridled candour. There are engaging profiles of some of his favourite producers and he writes with great wit and insight about some of the key ingredients in his cooking, (no mean feat, believe me). On asparagus, he says, ‘getting it shipped in from the opposite hemisphere means it’s going to taste of jet fumes. You ever notice how funky your clothes smell after you get off a plane? Well imagine what air travel does to a porous plant that’s going to wind up inside your mouth’. The recipe introductions are peppered with little jokes, mostly of the Dad variety, making the book a fun read.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you live in California, no. Just pop down to your local farmer’s market and pick up some of that abundant, beautiful, fragrant and ripe produce. In the UK, if you pop down to your local farmer’s market you’re more likely to find cling wrapped meat and bad versions of street food. Although there’s nothing particularly obscure in the book, the recipes really are a celebration of the finest, freshest produce, something you simply won’t find at the supermarket. Befriending someone with an allotment would be your best bet.

What’s the faff factor? The food appears simple enough on the plate, the ingredients lists look short enough but start reading the recipes and you realise that often there are a number of other recipes elsewhere in the book that go to make up the completed dish. But this is food from the former head chef of three Michelin-starred Manresa restaurant, so what did you expect?

How often will I cook from the book? If you’re willing to put the time in to build up larder ingredients like homemade ricotta, confit garlic and mushroom conserva and you can get your hands on some decent veg, then the food is so attractive and delicious sounding that you might just fall down a gastronomic rabbit hole with this book.

Killer recipes? There are many, but a random few include country fried morels with green garlic gravy; fennel confit, kumquat, feta, chilli and oregano;  pane frattau with fennel, strawberry sofrito, carta da musica and egg, and carrot juice cavaelli, tops salsa and spiced pulp crumble.

What will I love? The gorgeous images, the no-nonsense writing style, Fox’s original approach to cooking with vegetables and the endless inventiveness of the recipes.

What won’t I like? As Fox says himself, ‘If you’re looking for “10 Easy Weeknight Dinners for Vegetarians”, this book will not be of much use to you’.

Should I buy it? Its funny, moving, original and it will change the way you think about vegetables forever. Of course you should bloody well buy it.

Cuisine: Vegetarian
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 5 Stars

Buy this book
On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen

£29.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Lima bean & sorrel cacio e pepe
Carta da musica, leaves, things and truffled pecorino
Carrot juice cavatelli, tops salsa and spiced pulp crumble

Jack Stein’s World on a Plate

Jack Stein

What’s the USP? A chef’s global travels recorded in recipes.

Who’s the author? If you think you recognize the surname, you’re right. Jack is the son of Rick and since 2017, Chef Director of the Stein restaurant empire, which under his direction has grown from its HQ in Padstow across Cornwall and the south of England. His CV also includes stints at notable restaurants around the globe including La Régalade in Paris and Testsuya in Sydney. World on a Plate is his first cookbook.

What does it look like? The fresh, colourful and appetising dishes (shot by top food photographer Paul Winch-Furness) are interspersed with shots of yer man walking his dog, with his surfboard and chatting to fishermen (any of this sounding familiar, fellow Rick Stein fans?). 

Is it good bedtime reading? The skimpy intro won’t keep you occupied for long but there’s plenty of anecdotes about Stein’s travels and useful cooking tips embedded into the individual recipe introductions.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll find the vast majority in the supermarket, but you’ll want to do the Stein name justice by visiting your local fishmonger for some decent fish for langoustine with pastis and sea trout with samphire and beurre blanc.

What’s the faff factor? There’s a nice cross-section of dishes to rustle up when time is tight like crab omelette and more complicated, involved recipes such as guinea fowl terrine.

How often will I cook from the book? With everything from a fish finger sandwich to a Sunday lunch (‘My roast topside of beef), Jack Stein’s World on a Plate won’t be collecting dust on your bookshelf.

Killer recipes? Maple roasted pumpkin with rocket, dukkah and feta; Carl Clarke’s chicken clusters in laksa sauce; lamb shoulder with white miso cream and chicory; babi gulang (Balinese spicy pork with green bean and peanut salad); turbot on the bone roasted with bone marrow sauce.

What will I love? This is truly global cooking with recipes inspired by France, America, China, Australia, Thailand and of course Cornwall, which brings huge variety to the book.

What won’t I like? Stein wanton larder raiding of so many cuisines means you might bankrupt yourself buying all the different ingredients required to prepare the recipes. 

Should I buy it? If you’re looking for inspiration for something a bit different for a mid-week meal to cook at home, this hits the spot. Although you might notice some crossover between father and son’s cookbooks (Jack did a lot of his global travels on family research trips for The Seafood restaurant) Stein Jr has an individual enough voice to make the recipes his own.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Jack Stein’s World on a Plate: Local produce, world flavours, exciting food
£26, Absolute Press

Cook from this book
Cornish Chilli Crab
Green pasta bits
Pineapple tart tatin

Roots by Tommy Banks

roots tommy banks

What’s the USP?  Fans of Kunta Kinte will be disappointed to learn that this is not another  update of Alex Haley’s famous slave saga. The title actually refers to the ‘root ingredients’ used fresh or preserved by acclaimed young chef Tommy Banks, who divides the year into three rather four seasons which he calls The Hunger Gap (January to May); Time of Abundance (June to September) and the Preserving Season (October to December) which reflects the way he cooks at his North Yorkshire restaurant The Black Swan at Oldstead.

Who’s the author? Tommy Banks has had something of a meteoric rise since taking over the kitchens of the family restaurant in 2013, aged just 24. He’s one of the youngest ever Michelin starred chefs in the UK and has become something of a TV personality, appearing on the Great British Menu where he cooked turbot with strawberries and cream (recipe included in the book) at the grand banquet at Wimbledon and was a featured chef on Masterchef the Professionals where he demonstrated his signature dishes including crapudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat with smoked cod’s roe and linseeds, also included in this, his debut book.

What does it look like? Bucolic. The North Yorkshire landscape looks stunning and there are plenty of shots of Banks posing in fields and on the family farm gathering his beloved ingredients. The food is colourful and attractive without being too tortured on the plate.

Is it good bedtime reading? The short autobiographical introduction is bolstered by chapter introductions and essays on favoured ingredients such as elderflower, summer berries and ‘hedgerow harvests’ making Roots more than simply a collection of recipes.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you’re not a keen gardener then you might find it tricky to lay your hands on things like crapudine beetroot and courgette stalks, and you’ll need to follow Banks’s recipes for fermenting vegetables to make a number of dishes, plus you’ll need a good fishmonger if you’re planning on serving raw red mullet, and a decent butcher who can sell you sweetbreads and mince pork back fat for you, and you’ll need to get out picking elderflowers in June if you want to make elderflower drizzle cake, and…

What’s the faff factor? This is fundamentally a collection of restaurant dishes so expect to put in a fair amount of effort for your dinner.

How often will I cook from the book? This is more weekend project than mid-week supper cooking.

Killer recipes? See above, but also crab, elderflower and potato salad; scallops cured in rhubarb juice with Jerusalem artichoke, and potato skin and brassica broth with cheddar dumplings.

What will I love? All the recipes are rated either 1,2 or 3 for complexity which makes choosing what you want to cook from the book, depending on the time you have to hand easy. But this is more than just a collection of delicious sounding, interesting and characterful recipes, a real effort has been made to give a sense of Banks’s cooking ethos and life at The Black Swan.

What won’t I like? Some readers may feel they’ve been-there-and-done-that with the pickling, fermenting and foraging aspect of the book.

Should I buy it? Roots is a substantial debut effort from one of the UK’s highest profile young chefs with his own take on field to fork cookery which makes it well worth investigating.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Roots
£25, Orion Books

The Hidden Hut by Simon Stallard

The Hidden Hut jacket

What’s the USP? Recipes from one of Cornwall’s best-loved beach restaurants, famous for its open-air feast nights.

Who’s the author? Simon Stallard is the chef and owner of The Hidden Hut, a casual beachside restaurant set in ‘an old wooden shed’ on a coastal path near Truro. Stallard worked around the globe from ‘New York to New Delhi’ before settling in Cornwall and opening the Hut in 2010.

What does it look like? The numerous scene-setting photographs mean that you can almost feel the sand between your toes and smell the salty tang of the sea. Reading the Hidden Hut will make you want to jump in the car and immediately head for the south Cornish coast. The colourfully rustic food looks very appealing, the sort of pleasingly unpretentious stuff you just want to get stuck into.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not so much, just a short introduction and a ‘How to cook over fire section’ (cooking over a wood fire in the open air is what Hidden Hut feast nights are all about and Stallard shares his expertise over a 10-page section of the book).

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will be at an advantage if you live by the coast and can get your hands on spider crabs, octopus and gurnard, but as long as you can get to a good fishmonger you’ll be fine.

What’s the faff factor? Dishes range from a straightforward mid-week meal of lamb cutlets with butter bean mash and fresh mint sauce to a special-occasion-only slow roasted goat in preserved lemons, but overall the food is about as far from overwrought, tweezered complex restaurant food as you can get.

How often will I cook from the book? With recipes for breakfast (smokey bacon pastries), lunch (chicken and wild garlic soup), picnics (green pea scotch eggs) and parties (seafood paella for 40) as well as lots of delicious dinner ideas, it’s difficult to say when you won’t be cooking from the book.

Killer recipes? Despite the crab on the cover, this is not just a seafood cookbook. In addition to dishes like red-hot mullet with sticky rice balls and cucumber salad and Summer sardines with saffron potatoes and oregano dressing, there’s plenty of meat and veg in the form of 12-hour lamb with smoky aubergine, and samphire frittata with warm lemony courgette salad.

What will I love? There’s a real feel-good factor about the book, open it at any page and you’ll be inspired to get in the kitchen and cook.

What won’t I like? If you want super serious, complex cheffy cooking, this is not the book for you.

Should I buy it? The Hidden Hut is the sort of book with recipes that will become perennial favourites that you’ll find yourself going back to time and time again. So that’s a yes.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
The Hidden Hut
£20, HarperCollins

Cook from this book
Buttermilk drop cakes with lemon curd
Chicken and wild garlic soup
Fire-pit wild sea bass with verde sauce

Gunpowder by Harneet Baweja, Devina Seth and Nirmal Save

Gunpowder

What’s the USP? ‘Explosive flavours from modern India’ runs the subtitle. In reality, this is a collection of recipes from Gunpowder, a ‘home-style Indian kitchen restaurant’ in Spitalfields London.

Who’s the author? Husband and wife team Harneet Baweja and Devina Seth opened the 20-cover Gunpowder restaurant close to Brick Lane in 2015 with head chef Nirmal Save. This is their debut cookbook.

What does it look like? Mouthwateringly good. Recipes collected from family in Kolkata and Mumbai and inspired by Indian street food have been given a makeover with attractive modern plating. There’s some moody black and white scene setting shots of the restaurant and its kitchen and some boldly colourful shots of the subcontinent.

Is it good bedtime reading? There is very little additional text asie from a two page introduction and a spice glossary. Chapter and recipe introductions are concise and to the point.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  Unless you can shoot it yourself, you’ll need a good butcher to find you some wild rabbit to make the pulao recipe and you may have trouble finding pomfret (but you can just substitute John Dory the recpe says) but otherwise it’s pretty mainstream stuff.

What’s the faff factor? There are the long ingredient lists of numerous spices that you’d normally associate with Indian cooking which make the recipes look more complicated than they actually are. In reality, most of the dishes are striaghtforward and well within the capability of any confident home cook.

How often will I cook from the book? If you love Indian food, you might well find yourself taking the book from your shelf on a regular basis.

Killer recipes? Chutney cheese sandwich; Mustard broccoli with makhana sauce; Maa’s Kashmiri lamb chops; wild rabbit pulao; blue crab Malabar curry.

What will I love? The small plates chapter is full of inspiration for something a little bit different for breakfast (chickpea pancakes with fried eggs and tomato and coriander chutney) lunch (kale and corn cakes) or beer snacks (kadai paneer parcel; a spicy cheese and puff pastry roll) while the list of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks will put a spicy spring in your step.

What won’t I like? At under 200 pages, this is not the most comprehensive cookbook in the world.

Should I buy it? A diverse collection of delicious sounding, attractive looking dishes that are not too demanding to cook and suitable for any number of occasions and times of the day. If you like Indian food, you are going to love this book.

Cuisine: Indian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Gunpowder: Explosive flavours from modern India
£25, Kyle Books

Cook from this book
Mustard Broccoli

Planted by Chantelle Nicholson

Planted final front cover (1)

What’s the USP? Sophisticated, appealing and delicious vegan recipes from a top London chef

Who’s the author? Chantelle Nicholson is a New Zealand-born lawyer turned chef whose CV includes The Savoy Grill and Petrus. She came to prominence as Marcus Wareing’s right-hand woman, opening The Gilbert Scott as general manager and is currently back in the kitchen as head chef of Tredwells in Coven Garden. She has worked on a number of Marcus Wareing’s cookbooks including The Gilbert Scott cookbook; Planted is her debut solo outing. Nicholson has also emerged as a leading figure on the vegan dining scene with her Vegwells plant-based tasting menus at Tredwells and currently has a plant-based cafe concept in development.

What does it look like? There’s a stripped back, vaguely Nordic feel to the styling of the food photography – think distressed wood backgrounds and rough-hewn blue and grey ceramics – that gives the book an elegant look. Bright washes of colour come in the form of illustrator Lucy Gowans’s charming and colourful double-page painted spreads for each of the chapters headings – a slice of watermelon for breakfast and brunch; corn on the cob for snacks and starters.

Is it good bedtime reading? Only if you drop off to sleep very quickly, the three-page intro won’t keep you occupied for long.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  You’ll find nearly everything you need, including xantham gum, coconut yoghurt and dairy-free butter at the supermarket.

What’s the faff factor? This is a chef’s book so expect a fair amount of fine slicing, dicing and chopping and recipes made up of a number of different elements, but overall the recipes are very approachable.

How often will I cook from the book? Although a vegan recipe book might seem like something you might only pick up once in a while (unless you are committed vegan of course),  many of the dishes are so enticingly different that you might well find it transforms your cooking repertoire.

Killer recipes? Who knew vegan food could sound (and look) so tempting? Potato, celeriac, onion seed and thyme rostis with HP gravy; crispy globe artichokes with spelt and tarragon stuffing and salsa verde, and peanut butter pudding with peanut caramel and dark chocolate sorbet will have you wondering why you ever bothered with meat and fish.

What will I love? If you’ve ever struggled with the idea of vegan food, this is the book you’ve been waiting for with dozens of imaginative, exciting and appealing ideas.

What won’t I like? At less than 200 pages, you might be left wanting more.

Should I buy it? If you are a confident cook who is yet to explore the possibilities of vegan cooking, Planted will open your eyes and expand your mind. Not a bad deal for twenty-five quid.

Cuisine: Vegan
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book 
Planted: A chef’s show-stopping vegan recipes
£25, Kyle Books

Cook from this book
Seeded granola with chai spiced poached plums
Whole barbecued spiced cauliflower
Peanut butter pudding

Mustard Broccoli by Herneet Baweja, Devina Seth and Nirmal Save

MUSTARD GRILL BROCCOLI

SERVES 2 AS A MAIN, 4 AS A STARTER OR SIDE

We use mustard a lot in the east of India and here we pair it with broccoli, which is in the same family. In India, you often see this dish made with cauliflower, so you could easily interchange them. We prefer broccoli for the restaurant, as it really soaks in all the flavours and gets even crisper when flashed under the grill. It’s one of the most popular vegetarian dishes at Gunpowder. We think it’ll become a favourite in your home, too.

1 head of broccoli, halved
100g Greek yogurt
50g full-fat cream cheese
2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
½ teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon chaat masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons mustard or rapeseed oil, plus 1 teaspoon
1 tablespoon chickpea flour
2–3 tablespoons ghee, melted
sea salt
Makhani Sauce (see below) and pickled beetroot, to serve

1 Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the broccoli for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under ice-cold water to prevent it from cooking further. Shake off any excess water and set aside.

2 In a large dish, mix together the yogurt, cream cheese, mustard, chilli powder, chaat masala, turmeric, coriander, cumin and the 2 tablespoons of mustard or rapeseed oil.

3 Set a frying pan over a medium heat and toast the chickpea flour for 30 seconds. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil, mix, and toast for a further 30 seconds, making a fragrant paste. Whisk this into the yogurt mix, then thoroughly coat the broccoli in the creamy spice paste and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.

4 Set your oven grill to high and grill the broccoli, cut-side down, for 10–15 minutes, basting it with the melted ghee. When golden on top, turn over and grill 5 minutes on the other side, or until nicely coloured.

5 Serve on a base of Makhani Sauce with pickled beetroot sprinkled on top.

MAKHANI SAUCE

MAKES 250ML

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
500g tomatoes, diced
½ teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
3 cloves
3 green cardamom pods
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of chilli powder
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2–3 tablespoons double cream
1 teaspoon honey, or to taste (optional)
sea salt

1 Set a frying pan over a high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Once melted, add the garlic, ginger and a pinch of salt and cook for a minute.

2 Fold the tomatoes and all the spices through. Cook over a medium heat for 5–10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and darkened in a colour a little.

3 Spoon the mixture into a food processor or blender and blend until fairly smooth. Press through a sieve, giving you a smooth sauce. Warm the sauce gently in a saucepan with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Once the butter is melted, swirl in the cream.

4 Let the sauce gently bubble away over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes until it has thickened and darkened further. Season with salt and the honey, if needed, to taste. Serve warm.

Recipes taken from Gunpowder: Explosive Flavours from Modern India by Herneet Baweja, Devina Seth and Nirmal Save. Kyle Books. Photography: Pete Cassidy

Read the review 

Buy this book
Gunpowder: Explosive flavours from modern India
£25, Kyle Books

Larder by Robin Gill

9781472948540 (4)

What’s the USP? An urban update on traditional larder-driven cooking based around fermentation, curing, pickling, flavoured butters and oils, stocks, sauces and seasonings.

Who’s the author? Irish-born, London-based chef Robin Gill has revitalized the capital’s dining scene with his distinctive take on top drawer cooking set in casual surroundings at The Diary, Counter Culture and Sorella, all in Clapham.

What does it look like? There’s a distinctly rustic feel to the whole thing with matt finish pages, pictures of Gill on the farm, by the shore or posing with a brace of rabbits and food plated on vintage or earthenware crockery. I wouldn’t want to utter that overused and lazy term ‘hipster’, but you get the idea.

Is it good bedtime reading? Although first and foremost a recipe book, there is plenty of food writing to enjoy in the form of substantial recipe introductions, producer profiles and general musings on cooking techniques and ingredients. The autobiographical introduction provides a fascinating, and at times troubling, look behind the scenes of the restaurant industry.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  Cod collars, pig’s head, buffalo milk, Baron Bigod cheese, chardonnay vinegar, espelette pepper and dried wakame mean that you’ll have to look further than your local Tesco for many of the recipes.

What’s the faff factor? Don’t be fooled by the rustic vibe; Gill has worked in some very serious kitchens and although the food is presented in a naturalist way, there’s often lots of work gone into making it all look laid back and simple.

How often will I cook from the book? Because many of the dishes rely on larder recipes (the hint’s in the title) some of which take days, weeks, months or even a year before they are ready, this is more a culinary philosophy that you need to buy into than recipe a book that you can easily dip in and out of.

Killer recipes?  Galician octopus with summer vegetables and nduja brioche; belted Galloway onglet, piatone beans, young garlic and hay; game faggots, celeriac, toasted hazelnuts; white peach with almond skin ice cream, elderflower jelly.

What will I love? The extended larder section provides a real insight into Gill’s style of cooking so you get a real sense of what makes his restaurants so different and special. There is also an excellent selection of inventive cocktails including Panic! At The Pisco made with pisco, white vermouth and rhubarb puree and even a recipe for homemade pumpkin beer.

What won’t I like? The lack of quick and easy dishes. But there’s more than enough of those sort of books knocking about already if that’s more your thing.

Should I buy it? If you want to learn the techniques behind contemporary British restaurant cooking and employ them in your own home (or your own gaff if you’re a chef) this is an essential purchase.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Professional chefs and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book 
Larder: From pantry to plate – delicious recipes for your table
£26, Absolute Press

Cook from this book
Loch Duart Salmon Oyster Emulsion, Fennel, Fried Wakame by Robin Gill
Smoked beetroot tartare Cacklebean egg yolk, hazelnut by Robin Gill
Salted Caramel Cacao, Malt Ice Cream by Robin Gill

Aska by Fredrik Berselius

Aska

What’s the USP? Cutting edge, natural cooking from a leading New York chef.

Who’s the author? Two Michelin-starred, Swedish-born chef Fredrik Berselius of Aska restaurant that’s located in a Brooklyn back street under the shadow of the Willamsburg Bridge.

What does it look like? The book is a very desireable object with its textured black and gold cover, elegant design and stunning landscape,  portrait and food photography.

Is it good bedtime reading? In addition to the inspirational food, Berselius writes evocatively about his homeland of Sweden, his foraging trips to upstate New York and being a restaurateur and chef in Brooklyn.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Recipes tick all the modish ‘New Nordic’ boxes with ingedients like aged diary cow, birch, buttermilk, lingonberries and white currents, some of which may be tricky to track down for the home cook.

What’s the faff factor? Berselius has his own distinctive style. Some of the the most impactful presentations are the most simple, yet belie the numerous processes that go into their creation. Lamb Heart Burnt in Bedstraw appears to be a black disc on the plate but is in fact brunoise of fermented sunchoke, sunchoke emulsion and rendered lamb heart fat dusted with a powder of lamb heart that’s been cured, dried, grated, dry-fried, burnt with bedstraw, dry-fried and burnt a second time then blended and passed.

How often will I cook from the book? Techniques such as smoking, pickling and fermenting (along with a fair bit of foraging) mean that cooking from the book will require a fair amount of committment in terms of time, energy and organisation. Definately not the book to reach for when you come home late from work and need to rustle something up in 20 minutes.

Killer recipes? Lichen, caramelised cream, pine mushroom, spruce and chanterelle; grilled eel head on a branch; mackerel and black locust; sourdough, smoked hake and toasted milk.

What will I love? Berselius might be a resolutely urban chef saying, ‘I knew I wanted to be in New York. I fell in love with the city as soon as I set foot here’, but his cooking draws on formative experiences and memories from growing up in the suburbs of Stockholm and visiting his grandmother in the north of Sweden with its ‘reindeeer and white and black birch bark’ and summers spent among the ‘wheat, oat, rapeseed, grazing cows, and horses’ of the lowlands. Berselius’s achingly beautiful creations put nature right there on the plate in front of you. The food ranges from delicate (lenghts of pickled and compressed cucmber are artfully decorated pickled linden flowers) to red in tooth and claw (truffles made from pigs blood, butter and rose hip) but always seem to evoke some wild Nordic landscape.

What won’t I like? Some readers may find the book a little po-faced and over serious.

Should I buy it? Aska provides genuine insight into the mind of an exciting chef who is pushing the boundaries of his own creativity. As accomplished as Berselius obviously is, I get the feeling that there is much more to come from him. Roll on Aska book two.

Cuisine: Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Aska
£39.95 Phaidon

Out of My Tree by Daniel Clifford

Out of my tree cover idea Daniels Head.indd

What’s the USP? Two decades worth of recipes and stories that chart the evolution of the iconic two Michelin-starred Cambridge restaurant Midsummer House and its chef/patron Daniel Clifford.

Who’s the author? Daniel Clifford is one of the most revered, respected and, at times, controversial chefs working in the UK today. In addition to those Michelin gongs, he also holds five AA rosettes, the title of AA Chefs’ Chef of the Year 2015 and 8 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide. In short, he’s premier league.

What does it look like? A million dollars. Clifford’s food is very photogenic and has been allowed to speak for itself. Many of the dishes appear to be ‘plated’ directly onto the white of the page, a la Michel Bras’s 2002 book Essential Cuisine, which gives the intricate presentations room to breathe. The exemplary food photography is supplement by ‘family album’ snapshots in the autobiographical sections, bringing personality to the book and breaking up all the glossy perfection with a dose of behind the scenes realism.

Is it good bedtime reading? Clifford is brutally honest in the fascinating autobiographical passages that begin each chapter, both about the industry and his personal life, making Out of My Tree as much of a page-turning blockbuster as it is a document of modern British haute cuisine. Expect to be up to the early hours finishing it.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There’s a fair few specialist items such as gelepressa (a thickening agent) that you’d need to hunt down online, and if you want to emulate Clifford’s food you’ll need to source the highest quality raw ingredients you can lay your hands on, so forget the supermarket for the most part and think top notch butchers, fishmongers and your best local independent market for fruit and veg.

What’s the faff factor? This is unashamedly Michelin food, so the recipes are often long with numerous elements and many ingredients and replicating them will be demanding, requiring intricate and precise cooking.

How often will I cook from the book? On very special occasions or simply when the urge to spend a whole weekend (and a whole weeks wages on ingredients) hits you. For the home cook, it’s probably best to see this book as a source of inspiration from which you can cherry pick a sauce here and a vegetable preperation there rather than tackling entire dishes.

Killer recipes? We could be here all day. One of the many wonderful things about Out of My Tree is the warts and all approach. Of course there are the many triumphs; the insanely complicated Chicken, Sweetcorn, Truffle and Peas that won Clifford four perfect 10s on the Great British Menu and includes ballotine of chicken lined with spinach, stuffed with steamed truffled egg white and sweetcorn jelly (to resemble an egg), wrapped in potato string and deep fried. But there are also some embarrassing also rans such as parfait of banana, chocolate and a palm tree-shaped coconut tuile from 1998 (all the recipes are dated) that looks like it might have come straight from a TGI Fridays menu. Clifford has also included recipes for his mums egg sandwiches (served for staff lunch every Friday at the restaurant) and his nan’s cheese scones which he put on the menu when she came to eat at Midsummer House. Cute.

What will I love? Clifford and his publisher deserve a standing ovation for the obvious effort put into this book. A reported three years have gone into its production and it shows from the perfect food (as someone who has been involved in the making of a cookbook, trust me that getting 140 dishes of this degree of complexity to look immaculate on the page takes some doing) to the extensive biography and numerous extras like interviews with past employees and the string of forewords by Sat Bains, Tom Kerridge, Claude Bosi and others. Little details like illustrating the stock recipes with photos of how the finished product should look like elevate the book above the norm.

What won’t I like? This is unashamedly Michelin-starred, fine-dining, testosterone fueled stuff which may not appeal to every reader.

Should I buy it? Out of My Tree is the new White Heat, a once in a generation book. Clifford has put his heart and soul onto every page, making it the culinary equivalent of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Any chef that aspires to Michelin glory and wants to know what that really takes will want it on their shelf and every chef that has achieved that status it will want to share in Clifford’s journey.  Enthusiastic diners will find the book truly eye opening. If you’re a chef, don’t just buy it, send Clifford an email to thank him for writing it; there is much hard-won wisdom generously shared in these 400-odd pages that, read carefully, might just save you years of grief.

Cuisine: Progressive British
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars

Buy this book 
Out of my tree (Midsummer House)
£45 Meze

Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

Japan the cookbook

What’s the USP? This weighty 464-page volume is the latest in Phaidon’s series of ‘international cookbook bibles’ that have previously covered Mexico, Peru and China among other countries.

Who is the author? Californian Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a recognised authority on Japanese cooking both in America and Japan where she has lived for over thirty years

What does it look like? Three years in the making, the book contains over 400 recipes (many illustrated with clear and simple overhead photographs), organised into 15 categories including pickles, stir-fries and one pots, to create what Singleton Hachisu calls ‘a curated experience of Japan’s culinary framework from a specific moment in time’, researched during travels across the country and discussions with ‘chefs, local grandmothers and artisanal makers of traditional food’.

Is it good bedtime reading? As long as you’ve got strong arms, and be careful not to nod off reading about Jomon period of Japanese food history, if the 1.7kg book falls out of your hands it could do some serious damage.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may struggle to track down some things such as konnyaku but between your local Asian supermarket and online specialists such as Sous Chef you should be able to source the majority of stuff you need.

What’s the faff factor? All the dishes are listed with a preparation time and cooking time so you know what you’re letting yourself in for, but many can be completed in under half an hour.

How often will I cook from the book? There is a huge range of recipes included in this veritable encyclopedia of Japanese food so you could easily find yourself dipping into it on a regular basis.

Killer recipes? The broad selection of dishes from across the country covers everything from walnut dressed chrysanthemum petals to steamed mountain yam with nori and grilled eggplant miso soup to chicken yakitori.

What will I love? A history of Japanese food, a glossary of ingredients, a list of Japanese kitchen equipment and descriptions of Japanese cutting styles (zakugiri are ‘greens cut crosswise into 4cm pieces’). The 11-strong international line-up featured in the ‘shefu’ (chefs) chapter include Shinobu Namae of two Michelin-starred L’Effervescenvce in Tokyo, whose recipes include bonito sashimi with butterbur miso and shiso, and Shuko Oda of Koya Bar in London who contributes three recipes including clams, fava beans and capers steamed in dashi butter.

What won’t I like? If you’re looking for an encyclopedia of sushi, sashimi and ramen, then Japan The cookbook will disappoint, with just seven sushi, three sashimi and one ramen recipe (although there is a whole chapter on noodles).

Should I buy it?  Japanese food has become an everyday part of the British diet. From udon at Wagamama to ramen at Bone Daddies, from robata grilled lamb chops at Roka to the omakase tasting menu at the three Michelin-starred The Araki, Japanese cuisine has become so prevalent that there are now even sushi counters in supermarkets. Japanese ingredients and techniques have also become part of many progressive British kitchens with dashi becoming almost as common as chicken stock.

But even the most ardent Japanophile chef will probably only have scratched the surface of a food culture with a recorded history dating back to the third century. That’s where Japan The Cookbook comes in. This is the perfect primer for anyone wanting to deepen their knowledge of an endlessly fascinating subject.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars

Buy this book

Japan: The Cookbook
£29.95 Phaidon

Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman

Smitten Kitchen Everyday

What is it? Five years on from her debut book, this is the second outing for New York-based dating-turned-food blogger extraordinaire Deb Perelman of New York Times profiled smittenkitchen.com with over 100 recipes for ‘real people with busy lives’.

What does it look like? What is it about American-published cookbooks that makes them just so damn desirable? I’m not an uber font-nerd but the Minion typeface used here (originally developed by Adobe for Macs in 1990 according to a note at the back of the book) is particularly attractive and clean looking. At over 300 pages, the book has a certain authoritative weight and the glossy paper makes the 127 full-colour photographs pop.

Is it good bedtime reading?  Set aside that Grisham, the generous recipe introductions include plenty of culinary-related personal anecdotes and opinion, as well as cookery lore and background to the recipes themselves, making it a nighttime page-turner par excellence.

Killer recipes? Charred corn succotash with lime and crispy shallots; pea tortellini in parmesan broth; Manhattan-style clams with fregola; winter squash flatbread with hummus and za’atat;  ricotta blini with honey, orange and sea salt; raspberry hazelnut brioche bostock; chewy oatmeal raisin chocolate chip mega-cookies.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Despite an almost encyclopedic approach to global cuisine, you should have no trouble finding the vast majority of ingredients in a good supermarket.

What’s the faff factor? Make no mistake, this is ‘proper’ cooking and many of the recipes have several elements that need to be brought together at the point of serving, but with a little planning and organisation, they should be stress-free.

How often will I cook from the book? Every day (duh!).

What will I love? This is an American book, but, God bless them, they’ve included gram or millilitre equivalents for cup measures which rockets the book to the top of the usability charts for UK readers (other US publishers please take note). The guide for special menus at the back of the book that highlights vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and diary-free recipes (of which there are many) is particularly thoughtful.

What won’t I like? Me, if I find out you don’t love this book as much as I do.

Should I buy it? Only if you like cooking delicious food. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Cuisine: American/International
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 5 Stars

Buy this book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

Cook from this book
Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame peanut pesto
Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower

Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame-peanut pesto by Deb Perelman

Tofutofu 1tofu 2

Cook more from this book
Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower

Read the review

Buy the book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower by Deb Perelman

chickenSmokly chicken 1Smoky chicken 2

Cook more from this book
Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame peanut pesto

Read the review

Buy the book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein

The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein

Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein has been absolutely bloody everywhere. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) covering France, Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, most of Europe and the UK. Now he’s turned his attention to Mexico and California with The Road to Mexico. The book, and TV series, retraces Steins steps from nearly 50 years ago when, as he explains in the introduction, he ‘crossed the border from the USA at Neuvo Laredo and headed for the city of Monterrey’ and ordered some tacos in a bar.

His recent experience of Mexico was undoubtedly more luxurious than his original trip, swapping hitch-hiking, Greyhound buses and German cargo ships for a pale blue convertible Mustang, but the food probably hasn’t changed all that much in intervening half-a-century. Tortillas, tacos, enchiladas, corn, chilies and avocado abound. Recipes include ‘the original Caesar salad’ from Caesar Hotel in Tijuana made with salted white anchovies; refried beans, guacamole and roasted red tomato and chilli salsa. A short section on staples like guacatillo sauce made with tomatillos, avocado and chilies and a list of essential Mexican larder ingredients make the book a perfect primer for the first-time Mexican cook.

Each of the seven chapters that cover breakfasts and brunch, street food, vegetables and sides, fish and shellfish, poultry, meat and desserts and drinks is prefaced by a short essay by Stein, which, combined with the comprehensive and informative recipe introductions and the vividly colourful location photography makes for a satisfying travelogue.

Because the recipes are arranged into categories rather than place of origin, you’ll need to watch the series to get a proper sense of the regional variations of Mexican cuisine, and to understand why California has been included. Stein avers that ‘there is so much Mexican influence in Californian food’, and while that is true, recipes like Italian cioppino (monkfish, mussel and prawn stew) from Tadich Grill, chicken noodle soup with yellow bean sauce from chef Martin Yan’s M.Y China and Alice Waters’ rhubarb galette Chez Panisse (all in San Francisco) don’t reflect that influence.

So, the book’s premise might be a bit shaky and the recipe selection scattershot, but that shouldn’t prevent you from cooking from it. Recipes are well written, easy to follow and for the most part straightforward to prepare. Stein has an unerring nose for a great dish and The Road to Mexico has enough of them to make it a must buy for Stein’s many fans and anyone who wants to find out more about one of the world’s greatest, and most fashionable, cuisines.

Cuisine: Mexican/American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico (TV Tie in)
£26 BBC Books

Cook from this book
Ensenada fish tacos
Turkey breast with pasilla chipotle chilli butter sauce
Mexican rice pudding with honeycomb

Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi

Downtime

What is it?  An enticing collection of sophisticated recipes for the home cook by a new name in food writing

Redzepi – why does that sound familiar? Nadine Levy Redzepi is the wife of world-famous Danish chef Rene Redzepi of Noma fame.  This is her debut book.

What does it look like? The book’s design has all the Nordic stripped back chic you might hope for. The mostly overhead food photography by Ditte Isager is simple and uncluttered, allowing the dishes to speak for themselves. High-quality glossy paper means the reproduction of the images is so lifelike that you almost want to plunge a fork into the pages.

Is it good bedtime reading? A forward by hubby, plus an introduction and comprehensive autobiographical ‘A Life in the Home Kitchen’ section by the author that covers her Portuguese and Scandinavian food roots, along with chapter introductions and chunky recipe introductions means Downtime won’t just live in your kitchen.    

Killer recipes? Beef glazed celeriac with buttermilk sauce; cheese ravioli with brown butter egg yolks, parmesan and sage; kale and mushroom carbonara; quinoa salad with spiced onions; brownies with flaky salt and white chocolate chunks.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  It seems that great care has been taken to make these recipes as accessible as possible so you should be able to find everything you need at your local supermarket.

What’s the faff factor?  Minimal. The recipes are all about making delicious food for your family rather than exercising your cheffy inclinations. That said, three Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller’s elegant recipe for ratatouille (from the film of the same name) is included in the book.

How often will I cook from the book?  With everything from soups to pasta dishes and roasts to desserts (including a twist on tiramisu with a cheesecake-like crust), you could easily find yourself reaching for the book on a daily basis.

What will I love?  The book’s luxurious look and feel and the accessible and well-written recipes.

What won’t I like?  I’ll get back to you on that.

Should I buy it? If you feel that your repertoire of daily dishes has become somewhat stale, then this book will give your home cooking that inventive boost you’ve been searching for.

Cuisine: Nordic/international
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Downtime: Deliciousness at Home
£26 Ebury

Cook from this book
Roasted ratatouille with orzo
Lasagne with sausage meatballs
Danish apple dessert

River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray

River Cafe 30

River Cafe 30 commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most influential restaurants in London. Before Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray opened what was a nine table lunchtime-only canteen for the architects and designers who work in the converted Thames Wharf warehouse in Hammersmith that houses the restaurant, there were only fake trattorias serving generic Italian fare. The River Cafe introduced the notion of regional Italian cooking to the UK; of new season’s olive oil, cavalo nero, Tuscan bread soups, hand made pasta and the infamous flour-less Chocolate Nemesis cake, a recipe that no home cook it seemed could master, me included.

Taken purely as a collection of recipes, there is much to recommend River Cafe 30. This is simple, delicious, ingredient-led food requiring, in most cases, minimal skill from the home cook. If you can’t afford the premier league Italian produce that the restaurant’s reputation stands and falls by, then you’ll still derive a huge amount of pleasure from knocking up dishes like linguine with crab; spinach and ricotta gnocchi and pork cooked in milk. The ‘salsa’ chapter alone could transform your repertoire with killer sauces like bagnet made with capers, anchovies, bread, parsley, garlic, eggs, vinegar and oil.

However, this is not a book for the faint of wallet. The basic pasta recipe requires 13 eggs and that chocolate cake, one of a number of recipes recycled from the restaurant’s famous ‘blue’ cookbook from 1995, calls for well over half a kilo of ‘best quality’ dark chocolate. Follow River Cafe 30 to the letter and you’ll be bankrupt and homeless, although you will have a bit of extra fat to live off before you have to sell your extra virgin olive-oiled body to the night.

River Cafe 30 is a beautiful object with a vivid colour scheme inspired by the restaurant’s bright pink wood-fired oven, yellow pass and blue carpet. There are reproductions of menus drawn or painted on by artist fans that include Cy Twombly, Peter Doig, Damien Hirst and Michael Craig Martin along with evocative black and white photography depicting life in River Cafe’s open kitchen (one of the first in the country) and a moving tribute to the late Rose Gray by Ruth Rogers.

But where is the celebration of the countless chefs that have passed through The River Cafe’s kitchen? Not one word about Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall or Theo Randall, to name but three of the most high profile alumni. Three decades of culinary history are condensed into two brief pages of text plus some architectural drawings, a sample of one of the first menus and an article published in the New Yorker magazine in 1996.

Recipe introductions are sparse with little information about why dishes have been singled out for inclusion, their regional derivation or how they fit into the restaurant’s history. There isn’t even so much as a hint of how to use all those salsas.

Despite high production values, there is more than a whiff of cash-in about River Cafe 30. No doubt it will sell by the bucket load, especially to special occasion diners in search of a memento (River Cafe remains an exceptional place in which to eat your tea), but I can’t help but feel that this is a missed opportunity to properly celebrate one of Britain’s true culinary landmarks.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
Food Photography by Matthew Donaldson
£28 Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine
Risotto al Amarone di Valpolicella
Veal shin slow cooked with Barolo and sage

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw by Nathan Outlaw

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw

What’s the USP? At last, after a string of books aimed at the home cook, it’s Nathan Outlaw the full-on restaurant coffee table book.

Who’s the author? Cornwall’s ‘King of Fish’, a familiar face on TV, author of a series of fish cook books, serial restaurateur. No, not Rick Stein! It’s Nathan Outlaw, who admittedly trained with Rick Stein, but is easily told apart from the Steinmeister by the three Michelin stars he holds; one at Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen and no less than two at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, both in the tiny Cornish village of Port Isaac. You certainly wouldn’t bet against Outlaw picking up a fourth star sometime soon at Siren, his new gaff at The Goring Hotel in London.

Is it great bedtime reading? A skimpy introduction that pays only lip service to Outlaw’s career doesn’t bode well, but the interesting and well written recipe introductions, along with a number of essays dotted throughout (mostly supplier profiles) adds some meat to the (fish) bones of the book. It is however frustrating to read in the ‘About the author’ section at the back of the book that Outlaw has worked for the likes of Peter Kromberg, Gary Rhodes, Eric Chavot and John Campbell and not get to read any anecdotes about those experiences.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Ingredients are assigned specific weights and measures so there’s no handful of this or splash of that and methods are detailed and clearly explained so that home cooks as well as chefs will be able to happily attempt Outlaw’s dishes.

Killer dishes? There are any number of delicious sounding seafood dishes in the book including gurnard with Outlaw’s signature Porthilly sauce made with tomatoes, fish stock, shore crab stock and butter, and bass with leeks and tartare hollandaise (another of the chef’s signature sauces), but Outlaw is also no mean baker and pastry chef and you are bound to be tempted to try his roasted onion and Cheddar straws, shortbread custard creams and apple and cinnamon doughnuts.

What will I love? The variety of seafood that’s imaginatively prepared by a master of the craft; the stunning photography by David Loftus, the eight chapters that break each season into early and late, highlighting the importance of time of year to Outlaw’s cooking style and helping the reader pick the right fish and shellfish for pretty much any week of the year.

What won’t I like? It’s galling, especially in a book that costs £45 (or £250 if you want the deluxe edition that’s ‘bound in fish leather, hand signed and beautifully slip cased’ according to the publisher) to have to wade through platitudinous articles about how wonderful the restaurant’s wine list or staff are, which read like little more than press releases. There is, as a general rule, far too much of this sort of thing in modern restaurant cookbooks and a firmer editorial hand or the involvement of an independent professional writer (think how improved Corbyn and King’s cookbooks such as The Ivy were by AA Gill’s work) would be extremely welcome.

Should I buy it? There are an awful lot of seafood cookbooks already on the market (including Nathan Outlaw’s Fish kitchen, Nathan Outlaw’s Home Kitchen and Nathan Outlaw’s British Seafood for a start) but Outlaw does bring his own style and a lot of expertise to the subject making Restaurant Nathan Outlaw a worthwhile purchase.

Cuisine: Seafood
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book: Restaurant Nathan Outlaw

Cook from this book

Simply Delicious by Darina Allen

Darina Allen

What’s the USP? As the cover boldly states, ‘100 timeless, tried and tested recipes’ from the doyen of Irish cookery, collected from Allen’s now out of print Simply Delicious 1 and 2 and Simply Delicious vegetable books from the late 80’s and 90’s which were some of the most successful cookery books ever published in Ireland.

Who’s the author? You could call Darina Allen the Delia Smith of Ireland.  She is perhaps best known for running the world famous Ballymaloe Cookery School near Cork since 1983 but is also the author of 16 books including Irish Traditional Cooking and has presented nine series of the Simply Delicious TV show. She is a key figure in the Slow Food movement and founded the first farmer’s market in Ireland.  

What does it look like? Like the recipes, the design of Simply delicious is also timeless, tried and tested with simply-styled, full page overhead food shots and unadorned recipes. There are one or two portraits of the great lady herself in the busy in the kitchen and double page spread, photographic chapter headers featuring things like a metal colander of courgettes complete with flowers or a simple bunch of asparagus. Simple but nicely done.

 Is it good bedtime reading? A two-page introduction and that’s your lot sadly.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? How much is a ‘splash’ of sunflower oil? How much oil is enough for deep frying? How many lettuces and salad leaves constitute a ‘selection’ big enough to feed 6 people?  How many are ‘a few small leaves of lettuce’? What does ‘a little local goat’s cheese’ mean; do I need one log, two logs. And what weight? How much is ‘a little’ extra virgin olive oil. For a food writer of such long standing, and especially one who has run a cookery school for 35 years, the recipes are surprisingly littered with this sort of thing.

Killer recipes? This is comforting, home style cooking, dishes that transcend the fashions and fads of the professional kitchen like beef with stout; traditional Irish bacon with cabbage and parsley sauce;  farmhouse chicken and Irish stew. Things get a bit more racy with Lebanese cold cucumber soup and onion bhajis with tomato and chilli relish, but kombucha and dashi are notable by their absence.

What will I love? Simply Delicious is based on fundamental, sound cooking techniques and the food is appealing. The book will help you rediscover the delights of a well-made soup, stew, pie, salad or fruit fool.

What won’t I like? Clocking in at under 200 pages, the book is a little on the skimpy side for price and the lack of additional content like meal suggestions, glossary or more biographical details about Allen is disappointing.

Should I buy it? If your shelves are heaving with Redzepi, Humm and Bottura, then a shot of good old commonsense cooking in the shape of Simply Delicious might be exactly what you need.

Cuisine: Irish
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Simply Delicious the Classic Collection: 100 timeless, tried & tested recipes
£20, Kyle Books

Time by Gill Meller

Gill Meller Time

What’s the USP? A cookbook extolling the virtues of time spent in the kitchen; if that’s not 320 hardbound pages of positive reinforcement for foodie obsession, then I don’t know what is. And to prove that not every single cookbook permutation has already been done, recipes are organized into chapters covering Morning, Day and Night, each sub divided into spring, summer, autumn and winter. A neat and useful device.

Who’s the author? Meller is an alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and is a chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017.

What does it look like? Hats off to photographer Andrew Montgomery who has brought a distinctive ‘heritage’ look to the book that is at once timeless and totally contemporary; the picture accompanying a recipe for cold-smoked trout (a timeless and contemporary dish itself) could double for a renaissance painting. Meller’s food is attractively presented in a way that wouldn’t look out of place in a restaurant but that would also be well within the reach of a confident home cook.

Is it great bedtime reading? That depends if your tastes extend to poetry. In addition to the triptych of verses that open the three chapters, Meller affects a poetic, literary tone in his introduction and, in a slightly subtler way, in the recipe introductions. But even if the style doesn’t quite do it for you, there’s a decent amount of food knowledge and kitchen sense to be enjoyed.

Killer recipes? Radishes with aioli and fried fish; homemade bacon; tomato and anchovy tart with goat’s cheese, marjoram and chilli; treacle tart with thyme and orange.

What will I love? With 120 recipes, there’s plenty to get your teeth into and the book has a real sense of personality to it. Geller’s enthusiasm for his subject is palpable and the book has been beautifully put together.

What won’t I like? You might well get the sense that Meller is reaching for something profound that is simply out of the grasp of a recipe book, which is fundamentally what Time is.

Should I buy it? Fearnley-Whittingstall calls the book ‘a timeless classic’ and food writer Diana Henry says Time is ‘A joy. The recipes are even better than in his first book. And that’s saying something.’ I say it’s a lovely object with some great recipes that may be of more interest to home cooks than professional chefs.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Time: A Year and a Day in the Kitchen
£25, Quadrille