The Food of Sichuan by Fuchsia Dunlop

The Food of Sichuan

What’s the USP? The Food of Sichuan is a revised and updated edition of Sichuan Cookery, originally published in 2001. It’s an authoritative and comprehensive investigation of the styles, techniques and ingredients of a lesser-known regional Chinese cuisine with over 100 recipes, 50 of them new to the revised edition.

Who is the author? Fuchsia Dunlop is recognised worldwide as a leading authority on Chinese cuisine and is the first westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu. She is the author of four other books, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province; Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A sweet-sour memoir of eating in China; Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking and Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China. 

What does it look like? In a word, appetising. The food, often simply presented in a bowl, is photographed with the minimum of fuss and styling so that you can easily and clearly see how your fish stew with pickled mustard greens should look. The photographs of rural Sichuan village life are breathtaking.

Is it good bedtime reading? A 50-page introductory section covers the story of Sichuanese cuisine and its kitchen, larder and table, there are lengthy introductions to each of the 14 recipe chapters (which includes everything from cold dishes to hotpot and preserved foods) and each recipe has its own substantial introduction so there is plenty to read and enjoy when you are not tackling the recipes themselves.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There is no question that you will need access to a good Asian supermarket or specialist supplier if you want to cook extensively from this book. However, Dunlop reassures her readers that a dozen basics, many available at the supermarket including soy sauce, fermented black beans and Shaoxing wine ‘will set you up for making most dishes’.

What’s the faff factor? Bearing in mind that The Food of Sichuan is nearly 500 pages long and includes a chapter describing ‘The 56 Cooking Methods of Sichuan’, that is not a straightforward question to answer. For example, barring the 30-minute marinating time, spiced cucumber salad from the Cold Dishes chapter will take just moments to prepare whereas duck braised with Konnyaku ‘tofu’ is a more intricate and time-consuming dish.

Although Dunlop describes numbing-and-hot hotpot as ‘a wonderfully easy and delightful way to entertain’ the recipe does cover four pages of text and includes recipes for the stock and soup base that forms the centre of the dish, along with suggestions for ingredients to dip (she suggests at least 8-12 different ones such as thinly sliced chicken, pigs kidneys, lotus root and a variety of mushrooms) as well as seasoning dips.

Broadly speaking though, ingredients lists are usually quite short and methods that include techniques such as stir-frying and deep-frying will be familiar and easily achieved.

How often will I cook from the book? That may partly depend on how much you enjoy the famously numbing sensation of Sichuan pepper, which a good proportion of the recipes include. However, as Dunlop points out, ‘the most salient characteristic of Sichuanese cookery is its audacious combinations of different flavours…such as sweet and sour ‘lychee flavour’, delicate ‘fragrant-boozy flavour’ and fresh, light ‘ginger juice flavour’ which are not hot and spicy and so ‘those who do pa la -‘fear chillies’ – will still find plenty to entice them within the pages of this book’.

Killer recipes? Bowl steamed belly pork with preserved vegetables; fragrant and crispy duck; boiled fish in a seething sea of chillies; pot sticker dumplings with chicken stock; Mr Xie’s dandan noodles; silver ear fungus and rock sugar soup. 

What will I love? The quality of the writing, the depth and breadth of the research and the sheer reassuring heft of the thing that tells you this is the only book on Sichuan cooking you’ll ever need.

What won’t I like? There are some aspects of Sichuan cuisine that western palettes may find challenging, such as ‘liangfen’, jellies made from pea, mungbean, rice and sweet potato starches and served cold, or a spicy stew thickened with jellied pig’s or duck’s blood.

Should I buy it? If you love Chinese food (and spice) and want to learn more about what Dunlop claims is ‘one of the great cuisines of the world’ then you can’t go wrong.

Cuisine: Chinese
Suitable for:
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
The Food of Sichuan
£30, Bloomsbury

Cook from this book

Coming soon

Welsh Rarebit by Fergus Henderson

Welsh Rarebit - photo credit Jason Lowe

To serve at least 4, depending on the dimensions of your toast

Welsh Rarebit is a noble version of cheesy toast. Everyone loves cheesy toast! Our Rarebit is a proud thing and, if we might say so, extremely popular. So it is odd that Fergus gleaned this recipe from a chef who had previously worked at Buck’s Club, which was well known at the time for selling the worst rarebit in London.*

A knob of butter
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
A very long splash of Worcestershire sauce,
and a bottle to serve
200ml Guinness
450g mature strong Cheddar cheese, grated
4 pieces of toast

Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour, and let this cook together until it smells biscuity but is not browning. Add the mustard powder and cayenne pepper, stir in the Worcestershire sauce and the Guinness, then gently melt in the cheese. When it’s all of one consistency, remove from the heat, pour out into a shallow container, and allow to set.

Take a piece of good white bread and toast on both sides. Allow to cool just a little, then cover one side with the rarebit mixture to about 1cm thick – if you find that it doesn’t spread with ease, press it on with your fingers. Put on a baking sheet and place under the grill until golden and bubbling – grilling to just beyond your comfort threshold, to allow the flour to cook out.

When it comes to eating, irrigation channels are essential: make a gentle criss-cross pattern on your hot rarebit with a knife, creating the perfect flood plain for the Worcestershire sauce.

* There is another thing that we might add, if you are amused by a little mathematics. At St. JOHN Smithfield we sell an average of forty-five Welsh Rarebits per day. Taking into account annual closures, in this, our twenty-fifth year, we will have sold somewhere in the region of 405,000 rarebits. By the time we are thirty we will have surpassed the half-million mark. Onward!

Extracted from The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver (Ebury Press, £28 hbk) Photography by Jason Lowe

Buy this book
The Book of St John: Over 100 Brand New Recipes from London’s Iconic Restaurant

St John

Cook more from this book
Grilled Lamb’s Hearts, Peas and Mint by Fergus Henderson
Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart by Fergus Henderson

Read the review 

Grilled Lamb’s Hearts, Peas and Mint by Fergus Henderson

Grilled Lamb's Hearts, Peas and Mint - photo credit Jason Lowe

To serve 6, or 3 as a main course, 1 good-sized lamb’s heart will suffice as a starter, 2 each as a main course

Choose your peas wisely and avoid oversized starchy bullets; the smaller and sweeter the better. There is a brief overlap between pea season and grelot season; in this glorious time you would be foolish not to use grelots as delicious substitutes for spring onions.

6 lamb’s hearts, butchered and marinated
(see the book for details)
8 spring onions, trimmed and cleaned
3 heads of little gem lettuce, washed and separated
2 large handfuls of freshly podded peas
A handful of pea shoots per person,
snipped at the stem
A large handful of extra fine capers,
thoroughly drained

For the mint dressing
1 large bunch of mint, picked and
stalks retained
80g demerara sugar
200ml malt or red wine vinegar
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

First make the mint dressing. Bash the mint stalks with the back of a knife and place in a small pan with the demerara sugar and vinegar. Bring to a simmer for just long enough to melt the sugar, then set aside to cool thoroughly and infuse. Once ready, finely chop the mint and strain the cold vinegar over the leaves. Whisk in the olive oil, seasoning to taste.

To cook the lamb’s hearts you will need a cast-iron griddle or barbecue. Your hearts should be room temperature, not fridge cold, and the grill should be ferociously hot. Season boldly and place the hearts on the grill, cook for a minute and a half each side, then set aside to rest. A rare heart is a challenge, so aim instead for a blushing medium within. Now season and grill the spring onions in much the same way, charring with intent.

To serve, slice the hearts into slivers about half the width of your little finger, being careful to retain the delicious juices that are exuded in the resting. Place the little gems, peas, pea shoots and capers in a large bowl, then introduce the heart, resting juices, spring onions and mint dressing. Serve with chilled red wine.
Much like the ox heart on page xxx, this salad is also a noble bun filler.

Extracted from The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver (Ebury Press, £28 hbk) Photography by Jason Lowe

Buy this book 
The Book of St John: Over 100 Brand New Recipes from London’s Iconic Restaurant

St John

Cook more from this book
Welsh Rarebit by Fergus Henderson
Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart by Fergus Henderson

Read the review 

Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart by Fergus Henderson

Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart - photo credit Jason Lowe

To serve at least 16 – this is a very rich tart, you will not need very much

Here is an expression of the gradual erosion of chocolate. Fergus notes that the increasing challenge of finding a chocolate bar that does not contain salt is an example of a good idea going too far. For years his loyalties have lain solidly with Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut Bar – affectionately called ‘Fnerr’. But of late, he laments, he has begun to recognise its rough edges. Fergus and Fnerr have parted ways. In spite of (or maybe evidenced by) a little recent saturation, the combination of chocolate, caramel and salt
is still a good idea, and so here is our tart. A very rich tart, you will not need very much.

Base
200g plain flour
45g cocoa powder
7g bicarbonate of soda
180g demerara sugar
25g caster sugar
5g Maldon sea salt
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g dark chocolate, chopped finely –
the pieces should be smaller than
a chocolate chip

Caramel
225g caster sugar
70g unsalted butter, cut into chunks
80ml double cream

Chocolate filling
500g double cream
40g glucose
400g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
40g butter
Sea salt, for sprinkling
First make the tart case. It is easiest by far to use a machine for this. Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, both sugars and the salt, place in a food processor with the butter, and whizz until a loose dough forms. At this point add the chocolate and mix again. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest for half an hour or so.

If you are making the pastry any further in advance, take it out of the fridge in good time – you need the softness of room-temperature dough for it to work. When ready, butter and flour a tart case and roll the pastry between two sheets of baking parchment – the shards of chocolate would tear cling film, but the dough is too sticky to be rolled loose. Line the case with the pastry, rolled to around 4mm thick, line the pastry with foil or cling film, fill with baking beans and bake in a medium oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

When you remove the case from the oven, wait 10 minutes before removing the beans, otherwise the hot, soft pastry may tear. Once you have done so, press the base and sides all over with the back of a spoon while it is still warm – the aim here is to smooth the interior ready for the caramel,  pushing down the inside corners which may have risen and rounded a little in the baking.

Once the case is cool, make your caramel. It is essential to move quickly when the caramel is ready, so ensure that all your ducks are in a row before you start. Place the sugar in a scrupulously dry pan and melt over a medium high heat. Do not stir! Stirring will result in a crystallised disaster. Swirling the pan a little is allowed. By the time the sugar has dissolved you should have a good colour, trusting that it can be quite dark and still be comfortable. Throw the butter in first and follow with the cream, whisk them together quickly and, at the very moment that they are smoothly incorporated, pour it into the case immediately. With speed, pick up your tart case and move it around, tilting it to ensure that the caramel covers the entire base. Leave aside to cool.

Finally, heat the cream with the glucose and take it just shy of a simmer. Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl and pour the hot cream over the chunks in three stages, stirring gently to incorporate – the first will melt the chocolate, the second will loosen the mixture and the third will make the smooth ganache. Then pour the chocolate mixture into the tart and leave to cool and solidify. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve with crème fraîche.

Extracted from The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver (Ebury Press, £28 hbk) Photography by Jason Lowe

Buy this book
The Book of St John: Over 100 Brand New Recipes from London’s Iconic Restaurant
St John

Cook more from this book
Welsh Rarebit by Fergus Henderson
Grilled Lamb’s Hearts, Peas and Mint by Fergus Henderson

Read the review 

The Shore by Bruce Rennie

The Shore

I was very honoured to be asked to contribute an introduction, alongside Michelin-starred chefs Nathan Outlaw and Martin Wishart, to The Shore, the first cookbook by Bruce Rennie, chef proprietor of The Shore restaurant in Penzance. Although I do not benefit financially from my association with the book, it has proved impossible for me to write an entirely impartial review of The Shore, not least because I am a fan of Bruce and his cooking and have got to know him through visiting the restaurant and interviewing him. So instead of a review, here is my introduction from the book. I hope it will entice you to pick up a copy of the book, or even better, take a trip to Penzance to try Bruce’s food for yourself.

As soon as I heard about The Shore back in 2015, I knew it was going to be worth the 600-mile round trip from my home in Brighton to eat there. It wasn’t just that the restaurant was in Cornwall, a regular holiday destination for my family for over 25 years, or that I love Cornish seafood. It wasn’t even that the chef had worked in some impressive establishments including the Michelin-starred Restaurant Martin Wishart, one of my favourite places in Edinburgh.

The thing that really told me that The Shore was going to be something special was that it was a one-man operation. Because no one in their right mind runs a restaurant kitchen by themselves. At last count there were roughly a million easier ways to make a living, including being employed by someone else to run a restaurant. So, you only do it if you are driven to it; you have a culinary vision and a need to express yourself through food. In my experience, that always adds up to an exceptional experience for the customer. It was true of Shaun Hill at The Merchant House in Ludlow in the 90’s and early noughties, and its true of Bruce Rennie and The Shore.

From a starter of fillets of John Dory, cooked on the plancha with to-the-second precision and so perfectly triangular they looked like they’d been filleted with a scalpel, to a ‘plinth’ of Blackberry semifreddo with pistachio sponge and apple that was almost architectural in its design (Bruce studied architecture before deciding on a career in the professional kitchen), that first meal at The Shore was faultless. To top it all off, Bruce was not only cooking but helping to serve the food as well, moving nimbly between kitchen and dining room, engaging with the customers while ensuring he was never
away from the stove for too long.

I interviewed Bruce the day after that memorable dinner and discovered that not only can he cook, but also has a talent for storytelling and can talk the hind leg off a donkey. It was only when I found out that he is also very handy when it comes to DIY and carried out the refurbishment on the restaurant and kitchen himself that I began to deeply resent the breadth and depth of his Renaissance-man skills. No one is allowed to be that talented.

I was lucky enough to bag a seat at Bruce’s guest dinner at J Sheekey Atlantic Bar in London in 2018 as part of a series of pop ups to celebrate the restaurant’s 10th anniversary which also included Mark Sargeant of Rocksalt in Folkestone and Simon Hulstone of Michelin starred The Elephant in Torquay. Seemingly unconcerned by the unfamiliar surroundings, Bruce delivered food that was every bit as good as it had been in Cornwall; no mean achievement, and something he’d also pulled off at a guest night at The Gallivant in Rye in 2016.

You might expect someone so obviously focused and determined to be a somewhat straight-backed, tightly wound sort of personality, but Bruce is endearingly eccentric. After a long and very good lunch in London, I said goodbye to Bruce outside the Shepherd Market pub where we’d enjoyed one or two for the road and watched him remove his shoes and socks and walk off barefoot through the crowd (which is also his preferred state of dress for cooking in The Shore kitchen).

The publication of Bruce’s first cookbook means that I can at last attempt to recreate a little bit of The Shore’s seafood sorcery in my own kitchen. In reality, I know I’ll still have to make that 600-mile round trip to taste the real thing, but I also know that it will still be worth it.

Cuisine: Seafood
Suitable for: Professional chefs

Buy this book
The Shore
£25, A Way with Media

The Garden Chef with an introduction by Jeremy Fox

The Garden Chef

What’s the USP? The Garden Chef explores the growing (pun intended) worldwide phenomenon of top chefs cultivating their own produce for their restaurants in on-site kitchen gardens. The book includes ‘recipes and stories from plant to plate’.

Who is the author? The book has been created from the contributions of chefs from 40 high-end restaurants around the globe which most notably include Simon Rogan from L’enclume in England, Ben Shewry from Attica in Melbourne, Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michel and Cesar Troisgros from Trisgros in France. The introduction is by Jeremy Fox of Bridie G’s in Santa Monica who is also the author of the brilliant cookbook On Vegetables, also published by Phaidon and which is cookbookreview.blog five star-reviewed.

What does it look like? Expect a riot of raised beds, a plethora of polytunnels and a great deal of gathering in the fields. The accent is as much on ‘garden’ as it is ‘chef’. The majority of the 80 recipes are illustrated and the food does look great, but it’s rather overshadowed by all the greenery.

Is it good bedtime reading? The chef or chefs of each restaurant (some are run by duos including Michael and Iain Pennington at The Ethicurean just outside Bristol and Gaston Acurio and Juan David Ocampo of Astrid Y Gaston in Lima)  are given a full page to espouse their horticultural and culinary philosophies, earning The Garden Chef space on your bedside table.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ve seen the Indiana Jones movies, right? Unless you cultivate your own incredibly vast and comprehensive kitchen garden, be prepared for an amazing adventure where you’ll raid the lost ark, discover the temple of doom and embark on the last crusade to track down sangre de toro potatoes, kalanchoe blossfeldiana and Mexican pepperleaf, among many, many other obscure ingredients that you definitely won’t find at your local Asda.

What’s the faff factor? These are recipes aimed fair and square at the professional chef community. There are dishes achievable for the home cook, but really they are not the main reason you would buy this book; it exists primarily to document and give a window into a particular aspect of the modern restaurant scene.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? If you are up for attempting them, the recipes are detailed enough to follow to successful completion.

How often will I cook from the book? That depends. How often are you in the mood for something like chef Ana Ros’s ‘Rabbit That Wants to be Mexican Chicken’ where you’ll need to wrap rabbit mousse in whole chicken skins and serve with rabbit sauce flavoured with star anise and chilli, roasted carrots, apricot gel, carrot top pesto and hibiscus flowers?

Killer recipes? Don’t get me wrong, the book is full of delicious things you’ll want to eat like The Quay’s Tennouji white turnip, blue swimmer crab and Jersey Wakefield cabbage with fermented cabbage juice and brown butter dressing, but you’ll probably want to go to the restaurant and try them rather than cook them yourself, even if that does mean flying half-way around the world. Doable recipes include white and green pizza from Roberta’s in Brooklyn and cream of vegetable soup from The Sportsman in Seasalter.

What will I love? If you’ve been looking for inspiration to create your own kitchen garden, be it for your restaurant or your home, then you couldn’t ask for a better book. There are even garden tips and the chefs favourite heritage varieties to give you a kick start, although if you want step by step guidance on how to actually get out there and do it you’ll need to look elsewhere.

What won’t I like? The decision has been taken not to include any images of the interior of any of the restaurants, which gives the book a feeling of incompleteness. This is partly understandable, given that the thrust of the book is on the chef’s activities outside their restaurants rather than in them. However, after reading the book, you might well be interested in planning a visit to one or more of the places included and wonder what you are letting yourself in for. Of course, you can google the restaurant’s website and reviews for images, but that’s sort of beside the point; you can google images of many of the restaurant’s gardens and dishes too if you are minded to.

Should I buy it? It’s a great book but may have niche appeal. If you are a keen gardener or aspire to be one, as well as a foodie, you will dig (pun intended) this book. If you want to know more about an influential trend that is helping to define to the current global high-end restaurant scene, this is also a must-read.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Three stars

Buy this book
The Garden Chef: Recipes and Stories from Plant to Plate
£29.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book

Coming soon

Cook House by Anna Hedworth

Cook House Anna Hedworth

What’s the USP? Recipes and stories from Cook House restaurant in Newcastle upon Tyne that began as a supper club in a shipping container in 2014 before relocating to a permanent bricks and mortar premises in 2018.

Who is the author? Anna Hedworth is the chef/proprietor of the Cook House. A former architect, she is a self-taught cook. Cook House is her first restaurant and this is her first book.

What does it look like? Hedworth’s food is simple, rustic and extremely appetising; the food photography, which is not overly styled and lets the dishes speak for themselves, will make you very hungry.

Is it good bedtime reading? Cook House is a great read. Hedworth tells the story of her journey from architect to chef and restaurateur in detail and there are a number of ‘How to…’ double page spreads covering subjects such as ‘How to…start a supper club’ and ‘How to…find free food’ which make the book as useful outside the kitchen as in it.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will have very little problem sourcing what you’ll need for the vast majority of the recipes, but you will need lovage and wild garlic to make soup, nasturtium seed pods to make nasturtium and pumpkin seed pesto, pickled walnuts to add to beer braised oxtail and shin stew, Prague powder #1 to make salt beef, goat mince for meatballs, live seaweed cut from rocks on the beach to smoke BBQ scallops, live langoustines to serve poached with aioli, hawthorn berries to make chutney, kefir grains to make milk and smoothie, pine shoots to make vinegar, rosehips and hawthorn blossoms to make syrups, elderflowers to make gin, and scoby for kombucha. That might seem like a long list, but don’t let it put you off; it’s an indication of the variety and breadth of the recipes in the book, and you can always substitute an ingredient – lamb for goat for example – if you find yourself really stuck.

What’s the faff factor? For the most part, the recipes are straightforward to prepare, but Hedworth does like to get out and about with her cooking, so be prepared to build a fire and erect a tripod over it if you want to recreate her Hanging Leg of Lamb by a Tall Fire or to camp out if you want to cook foil wrapped fish over a beach fire.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Weights, measures and methods are present and correct apart from the expected ‘handfuls’ of herbs here and there. However, no weight is given for venison loin pan fried in butter and thyme, but there is a precise cooking time which one might imagine would vary depending on the size of the loin. Similarly, a poaching time of 45 mins if given for a chicken in several recipes, but no weight or size is indicated.

How often will I cook from the book? There are enough everyday soup, salad and supper recipes to make this a book you’d happily reach for mid-week, plus plenty of tempting baking and preserving projects for the weekend. You could also easily create  menus for entertaining friends and family from the book too.

Killer recipes? Red pepper, paprika and rosemary soup with sourdough croutons; chicken, courgette and pea salad with aioli and sourdough crumb; soft egg and herb tartine; game pistachio and juniper terrine; dark chocolate and almond cake among many others.

What will I love? If you’ve ever dreamed about making a career in food, Cook House will provide you with the information and inspiration to take the leap.

What won’t I like? Matt paper means that the photography doesn’t quite have the pin sharp clarity and intensity of colour of some other cookbooks.

Should I buy it? If you are fascinated by the restaurant industry or want to try out techniques like cooking over open fire and preserving and fermenting for the first time, this book will be of particular interest. But even if you just want to add a few more delicious go-to recipes to your repertoire, Cook House is well worth adding to your collection.

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

Buy this book
Cook House
£25, Head of Zeus

Cook from this book

Coming soon

A Cookbook by Matty Matheson

Matty Matheson

What’s the USP? The first book from Vice TV star and the most famous Canadian chef in the world Matty Matheson. Despite the title, this is a culinary memoir as well as a recipe book.

Who is the author? Matty Matheson is a Toronto-based chef and restaurateur and former roadie for heavy metal band At the Mercy of Inspiration. Until  2017, he was executive chef of Parts and Labour and sister restaurant P&L Burger. He is the curator of Matty Fest a new food and drink festival launching in September 2019.

Matheson’s career took off in 2013 when he recorded the Hangover Cures and Keep It Canada series of videos for the Munchies YouTube channel which led to the Vice TV channel series It’s Suppertime and Dead Set on Life (both of which are available to view for free in the UK on the ALL 4 website here and here). In early 2019, he announced the launch of his self produced web series Just a Dash which is due to air in autumn 2019.

At the age of 29, Matheson suffered a heart attack after a sustained period of alcohol and drug abuse but eventually became sober. His larger than life personality and post-modern approach to food television that simultaneously celebrates and undercuts the form can be seen in this video, recorded for Gozney ovens website where he demonstrates his mother’s broccoli-chicken cheddar curry casserole, the original recipe for which, he says in the book ‘was probably on the side of a can or a box’ (it’s also a glorious dish).

What does it look like? Part recipe book, part family photo album, part Canadian travelogue, the book is beautifully put together. Food photography by Quentin Bacon (excellent name for a food photographer by the way) is simple, unfussy and lets Matheson’s cooking speak for itself. Matheson grew up in the less than picturesque town of Fort Erie, Ontario but Pat O’Rourke’s urban landscapes have a bleak magnificence to them.

Is it good bedtime reading? Divided into two parts, Matheson tells first the story of his family life and the food cooked by his grandparents, parents and in-laws. In the second part, he recounts his career from culinary school through formative experiences at Le Select Bistro,  La Palette and Oddfellows (all in Toronto) to his appointment as head chef of Parts and Labour and his transition into a media figure, all told with unflinching candour and a healthy dose of salty language.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need an excellent butcher to track down things like a whole lobe of foie gras to make seared foie gras with rice pudding and warm date marmalade, veal sweetbreads to cook blanquette ris de veau and veal shank and ox tongue to recreate Matheson’s pot-au-feu, but unless you are in Canada, finding elk loin to serve with carrots, celeriac and pickled blueberries may prove very tricky.

What’s the faff factor? That depends largely on which part of the book you’re cooking from. The Family recipes are a little more straightforward than those in the Cooking School and Restaurants chapter, but many are quite time consuming to prepare.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There are the usual ‘bunches’ of herbs but apart from that there are no real issues and even the American cup measures come with precise ml equivalents.

How often will I cook from the book? Some of the more simple and approachable recipes could well become firm favourites such as baked rigatoni and blackberry coffee cake but you will probably have to plan well ahead to cook many of the dishes.

Killer recipes? In addition to those already mentioned, I would add lobster pie, molasses bread pudding, rabbit stew, pot roast, rappie pie (a crispy, layered grated potato and chicken bake), Italian wedding soup, Nashville hot chicken, pigtail tacos, lamb dan dan noodles and the P&L burger.

What will I love? Matheson is funny, entertaining and self-aware throughout. For example, in his introduction to the recipe for Sausage and Potatoes he says, ‘If you don’t want to make sausage, you don’t have to. Just buy good Italian sausage from a butcher like a normal human being. No one has time to do something like this, or who even has a sausage stuffer or meat grinder. Why is this even in this book? Do people even cook from cookbooks?’

What won’t I like? Some readers may not appreciate the bad language.

Should I buy it? Matty Matheson is the most interesting and exciting American food personality since Anthony Bourdain and his first book is as compelling as his on screen appearances. An absolute must buy.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
Matty Matheson: A Cookbook
£25, Mitchell Beazley

How To Eat a Peach by Diana Henry

how to eat a peach diana henry

What’s the USP? A collection of seasonal, themed menus designed to evoke memories, moods, time and place. The title comes from the recipe ‘white peaches in chilled moscato’, the idea for which Henry found while dining al fresco one night in Italy. The table next to her were served a bowl of peaches which they halved, pitted, sliced and dropped into glasses of chilled moscato; a dish, and cookbook, was born.

Who is the author? Diana Henry is one the UK’s best loved food writers. She is the author of numerous best selling books including Roast Figs, Sugar Snow and Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons. She has a weekly column in the Telegraph and hosts her own food-themed podcast.

What does it look like? Early evening on a day in late summer in England, with lots dappled sunlight falling on unironed white linen tablecloths. There’s hardly a living soul in any of the photographs (one double page spread features disembodied arms reaching across a table and the tops of a couple of heads, but that’s it; not even an author’s headshot), but the convivial nature of dining and entertaining at home is cleverly conveyed; three glasses of white wine sit on a window sill with a cork laying among them, as though just poured with their owners  who might be busily chatting out of frame.

Is it good bedtime reading? Henry is as much a food writer as a recipe writer and each of the 25 menus (each containing three to five recipes), has its own introduction, some of which run to several pages, so there’s plenty to enjoy even when you’re not actually cooking in the kitchen.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need to pick your own elderflower heads if you want to make Henry’s elderflower gin and tonic and you’ll need a specialist supplier for Spanish fideos noodles for the vegetable fideua (a version of paella) but most of the recipes will cause you little or no shopping headaches.

What’s the faff factor? While Henry is definitely not one for fiddly garnishes, complicated sauces or dishes with multiple elements, this is proper cooking. You’ll need to do things like blanch and peel broad beans, make your own mayo and braise ox cheeks for four hours to make these menus.

How often will I cook from the book? If you love entertaining, this book is going to get a lot of use. However, just because the recipes are organised into menus doesn’t mean they don’t stand on their own. There are plenty of dishes (see below) you’ll want to cook for everyday meals.

Killer recipes? Spatchcocked chicken with chilli, garlic, parsley and almond pangrattato; courgette, ricotta and pecorino fritters; roast tomatoes, fennel and chickpeas with preserved lemons and honey; lamb kofta; griddled squid with chilli, dill and tahini dressing; onglet with roast beets and horseradish cream. 

What will I love? How to Eat a Peach basically solves all your dinner party problems at a stroke; you’ll probably never be stuck for an idea again. That each menu comes with a story attached add bags of personality to the book (and might give you something to talk about if conversation around your table flags). Also, the furry peach skin-like cover is AWESOME.

What won’t I like? Most of the recipes serve either 6 or 8 people, so you’ll need to do a bit of maths if you want to adapt them for a small family or couple.

Should I buy it? If you like to cook seasonally for a crowd, snap it up.

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

Buy this book
How to eat a peach: Menus, stories and places
£25, Mitchell Beazley

Shetland by James and Tom Morton

Shetland by James and Tom Morton

What’s the USP? Father and son team explore life on a remote Scottish island ‘with food, drink and community at its heart’ through the medium of recipes, pictures and personal memoir and anecdote.

Who are the authors? You’ll probably know James Morton in his guise as Great British Bake off finalist. He is also the author of an extremely good book about brewing called Brew. He is also a doctor. His father Tom is a writer, journalist and broadcaster.

What does it look like? There are very few landscapes as dramatic as those found on the Scottish islands and Shetland (as Morton points out in his introduction, ‘It’s not, never has been and never is ‘The Shetlands’), the northern most point of the UK, is no exception. Photographer Andy Sewell captures it in all its rugged glory, as well as taking some charming portraits of the locals. The food looks as hearty and elemental as you might expect.

Is it good bedtime reading? In addition to the dozens of recipes, there are plenty of articles about life on the island, its food and feasts. Recipe introductions are extended and detailed and there is plenty of text given over to techniques such as cold smoking and pickling.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You might need to go online or to a health food shop to track down pinhead oatmeal, a butcher or online retailer for hare, mutton and, erm, piglets’s testicles, and a good fishmonger to get fresh seaweed, whelks, large scallops and live crabs. Additionally, unless you live there, Shetland black tatties  and Shetland trout might be tricky to get hold of (but the recipe suggests fresh farmed salmon as an alternative).

What’s the faff factor? There is a fair amount of what you might call cooking ‘projects’ such as pickling and jam making, and you might consider building your own cold smoking chamber (although all you need is sturdy cardboard box and a few other bits and bobs from the DIY store) and curing and smoking your own Golden Syrup Bacon a faff, but recipes such as poached salmon or a simply roasted hare are quite straightforward.

How often will I cook from the book? This more an occasional book than everyday, for when you want to get stuck into a day’s cooking or want something a bit different and rustic.

Killer recipes? Fresh mackerel pate; oven bannocks; The apple pie, Jaffa cakes. 

What will I love? It’s a great read, both father and son can really write and the whole thing is done with great good humour.

What won’t I like? Some of the recipes may seem recherché and you may not cook as often from this book as others in your collection.

Should I buy it? This is one for the serious foodie or Scottish food fanatic.

Cuisine: Scottish
Suitable for: 
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Three stars

Buy this book
Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World
£25, Quadrille

Pasta, Pane, Vino by Matt Goulding

pasta-pane-vino-1

What’s the USP? Not a cookbook but rather a culinary travelogue through the regional cuisines of Italy.

Who’s the author? Matt Goulding is co-founder of Roads and Kingdoms a travel, food and politics website. Goulding is also the author of Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture and Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture. Goulding’s correspondence with the late Anthony Bourdain about Italy and Goulding’s plans for the book form the foreword. 

What does it look like? At 16.5cm by 19.8 cm, Pasta, Pane, Vino is a cute, squat volume. Clocking in at 352 pages, it’s also a weighty tome, packed with 200 colour photographs portraying the chefs, farmers, fishermen and other figures behind Italy’s culinary traditions, as well as the food, landscapes and cityscapes of Rome, Puglia, Bologna, Sicily, Naples, Sardinia , Piedmont and Lake Como.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is definitely one to keep on the bedside table, to send you off dreaming of carbonara in Rome, pizza in Naples and spaghetti alla marinara in Sardinia.

Killer quote: ‘In the end, it’s not a book about grandmas and their sacred family recipes (though they have a few delicious cameos); it’s a book about a wave of cooks, farmers, bakers, shepherds, young and old, trying to negotiate the weight of the past with the possibilities of the future’.

What will I love? Goulding is a writer from the top drawer. He not only knows how to construct a sentence and turn a memorable phrase (for example, the opening line of the book – ‘Long after the sun has set behind the Palatine Hill, after the sands of the Colosseum have been swallowed by shadows, after the tint of the Tiber has morphed from acqua minerale to Spritz to dark vermouth, you come upon a quiet piazza on a meandering cobblestone street…’), he’s also really done his research. Unless you know Italy extremely well, you will discover things about the country’s culinary scene you didn’t know before, from a hidden gem of a trattoria in Rome to the best time to visit Ballaro market in Palermo and much, much more.

What won’t I like? It’s difficult to find fault. In addition to the main body text of the chapters, the book is peppered with double page spreads such as ‘Anatomy of a dish’ (explanations of items like bistecca al la Fiorentina and caffe that are particularly significant to regional Italian cuisine), and ‘Postcards’ (an overview of destinations like Matera in southern Italy and Ragusa in Sicily not otherwise covered in the book)  which add variety and value and help break up the main text. You could argue that the only thing missing are some authentic recipes from each of the eight destinations covered, but that’s nitpicking.

Should I buy it? Do you like food? Do you like travel? Do you need everything spelled out to you?

Cuisine: Italian 
Suitable for:
Culinary tourists 
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy’s Food Culture (Roads & Kingdoms Presents)

Together: Our Community Cookbook by the Hubb Community Kitchen and HRH The Duchess of Sussex

together our community cookbook

What’s the USP? Recipes written by a group of women who were gathered together in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire to cook for their families and neighbours.

Who’s the author? The authors are all members of the Hubb Community Kitchen based at Al-Manaar, The Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, London and include Cherine Mallah, Oxana Sinitsyna, Munira Mahmud, Halima Al-Hudafi, Intlak Alsaiegh, Aysha Bora, Faiza Hayani Bellili, Leila Hedjem, Claren Bilal, Amaal Abid Elrasoul, Sanna Mirza, Ahlam Saeid, Mama Jay, Jay Jay, Gurmit Kaur, Hiwot Dagnachew, Jennifer Fatima Odonkor, Dayo Gilmour, Lillian Olwa and Honey Akhter.

What does it look like? The attractive, vibrant dishes are simply presented, reflecting the rustic nature of the cooking. Portraits of the women cooking at Al Manaar gives a sense of the community they belong to and help nourish.

Is it good bedtime reading? Aside from the foreword by HRH The Duchess of Sussex (AKA Meghan Markle) this is a recipe focused book.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The book reflects a wide range of culinary traditions including Algerian, Lebanese, Moroccan and Ugandan and there is the odd specific ingredient such as Argan oil, Persian dried limes, dried barberries and Egyptian short grain rice that may mean a search on line or considering an alternative, but the vast majority of ingredients will be readily to hand.

What’s the faff factor? There are some recipes with long ingredients lists (often down to the use of numerous spices) or with several elements, but in the main, the dishes are simple and approachable.

How often will I cook from the book? Together is unlikely to gather dust on your shelf and is exactly the sort of book you might reach for when you you’re looking for inspiration for a weekday meal, or a more time consuming weekend cooking project.

Killer recipes? Egyptian lamb fattah; carrot and onion chapatis; Yemini bread; Moroccan chickpea and noodle soup; Russian semolina cake 

What will I love? The sheer variety of dishes, some of which you may not have encountered before such as Mahamri (African beignets – fluffy, doughnut like buns flavoured with cardomom and coconut milk).

What won’t I like? At 128 pages, it ends all too soon.

Should I buy it? All profits from the book The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex for the benefit of the Hubb Community Kitchen. That alone is a good enough reason to get yourself a copy.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: 
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
Together: Our Community Cookbook

Pie and Mash down the Roman Road by Melanie McGrath

pie and mash down the roman road by melanie mcgrath

What’s the USP? The story of an East End pie shop and the family who have owned it for nearly a century.

Who’s the author? Melanie McGrath has several strings to her authorial bow. She not only writes mysteries and thrillers such as Give Me The Child under the nom de plumes of MJ McGrath and Mel McGrath, but also specialises in non-fiction about the East End of London including Silvertown and Hopping which she writes under her own name.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is not a cookbook, there are no recipes, just 244 pages of social history centered around Kelly’s pie and mash shop on the Roman Road in East London. The book does include some culinary history, including of the dish of pie and mash, but the book primarily tells the stories of the people connected with the shop and the area including the customers, suppliers, employees and owners, and the historical conditions they lived in and events they lived through.

Killer quote: ‘To get to the real meat of us as islanders, Britons, and Londoners, why not start there, with something as simple and as iconic as a shop selling the Londoner’s meal of pie, mash and eels? …just as an archaeologist in revealing a scrap of pottery or fragment of mosaic in a rubble of a building site…can cast light on the history of the Roman empire and its citizens, a light shone on a pie and mash and eel shop in what might at first seem to be a unremarkable road in east London can help illuminate more general truths about who we really are.’

Should I buy it? If you don’t mind the use of the historical present (historical events narrated in the present tense), which some readers may find mannered, irksome and distracting, and are as interested in British social history as you are food, then this is the book for you.

Cuisine: British 
Suitable for:
Anyone interested in British culinary and social history
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Pie and Mash down the Roman Road: 100 years of love and life in one East End market
£18.99, Two Roads

Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit

lateral cooking by niki segnit

What’s the USP? Segnit says that Lateral Cooking is ‘a practical handbook, designed to help creative cooks develop their own recipes’. So, not your everyday cookbook then.

Who’s the author? Niki Segnit is probably best known as the author of The Flavour Thesaurus, the culinary version of Roget’s Thesaurus, which listed 99 ingredients and suggested flavour matches for each of them. Lateral Cooking is designed as a companion volume to The Flavour Thesaurus.

What does it look like? At over 600 pages long, its a brick of a book, with densely packed pages illustrated only by simple red ink line drawings.  Think weighty reference work rather than a glossy cookbook.

Is it good bedtime reading? Oh yes. There are (very) approximately 300,000 words to keep you occupied, or around three airport novels worth.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The short answer is no, but that needs some qualification, so here goes with the long version. This is not a recipe book as such (although it does contain recipes) and is organised in a very particular way. Each of the twelve chapters takes either a type of ingredient such as nuts, chocolate or sugar, or a product (bread) or related group of products (stock, soup and stew) and offers a simple ‘starting point’ recipe which Signet says lies on a ‘continuum’ which links one recipe to the next within the chapter’s subject. As she explains in her introduction, ‘Marzipan can be nothing more than a mixture of equal weights of ground almonds and sugar with just enough egg white to bring them together. Macaroons, the next point on the continuum, simply call for more egg white’.

So will you have trouble finding the ingredient for the starting point Marzipan recipe? Almost certainly not. But before you get to the next point in the continuum, Signet provides ‘a range of flavouring options’ under the heading of ‘Flavours & Variations’ for the starting point recipes. So you might want to try and track down candied melon to make your own Calissons D’aix, a lozenge shaped sweet from Aix-en-Provence made with a marzipan like mix of ground almonds and flavoured with honey, Grand Marnier and orange flower water as well as the aforementioned candied melon. Signet doesn’t always provide recipes for all her flavouring options, so you’ll have to google Calissons D’aix , or just click here. Ultimately, Signet wants her readers to develop their own recipes based on the starting points and flavouring options, so your imagination is your only limit to what you include in a recipe, which means you might have trouble finding ingredients if your ideas are really out there.

What’s the faff factor? Again, not a straightforward question to answer. The starting point recipes are designed to be simple, but the idea of the book is not just to master those simple recipes, but to become an all round instinctive cook who understands ingredients and cooking methods so well that you won’t need recipes or cookery books anymore. So, in addition to the flavouring suggestions, each starting point recipe comes with a list of ‘leeway’ bullet points that illustrate the different ways the basic recipe can be prepared and variations in ingredients (and this is before you get on to the more major variations of the flavouring suggestions). So the faff is not necessarily in the complexity of the recipes, but the amount of reading you will need to do before you get into the kitchen.

How often will I cook from the book? If you treat the book as it’s intended and follow the ‘continuum’ from the starting point recipes and really get inside a particular branch of cookery, you will be making a lot of food and basically taking a self-directed cookery course at home. Otherwise, I’m not sure this book would be the first I’d reach for when planning a weekly household menu for example.

Killer recipes? As a practical handbook, Lateral Cooking isn’t really about killer recipes but culinary fundamentals, so you’ll find full written out recipes for things like Yeast-risen bread, Brown Chicken Stock, Risotto Bianco, Pasta, Tarka Chana Dal, Lamb and Vegetable Stew, Marzipan, Shortbread and Ice Cream. The more unusual dishes are often embedded within the ‘Flavours & Variations’ sections, such as Chanfana, a goat stew from the Beira region of Portugal that’s flavoured with red wine, mint, paprika and piri piri seasoning. 

What will I love? Lateral Cooking is a comprehensive work and notable academic achievement, taking a fresh perspective on a well worn subject that will have you thinking about cooking in a new way.

What won’t I like? Whether or not you like the book will depend on how willing you are to go with Segnit’s basic conceit of the cooking continuum, how important you feel it is to understand cooking from that perspective and if you agree that it will turn you into an instinctive cook (if you are not one already) and if that’s what you want to be.

Should I buy it? If you don’t own a copy of Larousse Gastronomique, Le guide culinaire by Escoffier or La Repertoire de la Cuisine and are a novice cook who wants to take a more serious approach to learning the craft, then Lateral Cooking will fit the bill. If you already have a decent cookbook collection and are an accomplished cook, you may want to carefully consider how likely you are to cook through the book in the manner intended. However, it may fill a gap in your collection as a modern reference work.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: 
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Lateral Cooking: Foreword by Yotam Ottolenghi

£35, Bloomsbury Publishing

Mob Kitchen by Ben Lebus

mob kitchen by ben lebus

What’s the USP? Quick and easy recipes that will feed four people for less than a tenner, this is the print version of the youtube and social media food channel.

Who’s the author? Ben Lebus previously worked as a waiter in his father’s Oxford restaurant and as a Deliveroo rider before launching Mob Kitchen, an online publishing company that creates short cooking videos.

What does it look like? The vivid, direct, colourful and simple design makes it a pleasure to cook from.

Is it good bedtime reading? In a word, no. But it is good listening, sort of. Every chapter and recipe comes with its own soundtrack. Just scan the Spotify code using the app on your phone and you can hear Bon Temps Rouler by Scoundrels while you knock up some Healthy Chicken Gyrpos.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The book is pretty much aimed at the supermarket shopper so you should have no problems finding anything.

What’s the faff factor? Lebus doesn’t understand the word ‘faff’. As he explains in his introduction, Mob Kitchen is all about weaning uni students and young professionals off their fast food and takeaway habits and showing that ‘cooking healthy, delicious food is easy, fun and affordable’.

How often will I cook from the book? If you are a uni student or young professional and you do want to eat more healthily, cooking from Mob kitchen could become a daily habit. And even if you don’t fall into the above categories, the book has plenty of mid-week meal ideas to appeal to casual cooks and dedicated culinarians alike.

Killer recipes? Chorizo shak attack; the crispiest sweet potato rosti with poached eggs and guac; Asian courgette ribbon and chicken salad; lamb kofta couscous salad with tzatziki; chicken panzanella.

What will I love? The sense of discovery and joy in sharing knowledge and the fact that the dishes really will only cost you ten quid to cook.

What won’t I like? If the book was a person it would live in Shoreditch, call you ‘buddy’ and have a thing for craft beer. There is a certain amount of twenty-something testosterone (and which is also very evident on the videos) which some readers may find hard to swallow.

Should I buy it? As a first cookbook for a younger person, you can’t really go wrong but also well worth investigating if you’re short on time to cook and are bored by your  weekday meal routine.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for:
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Four stars

Buy this book
Mob Kitchen: Feed 4 or more for under 10 pounds

Fruit Soup with Verbena by Michel Roux Jr

fruit soup

(SOUPE DE FRUITS ROUGES À LA VERVEINE)

This beautiful, verbena-flavoured dessert is summer in a bowl. And it is even better with a few little madeleines on the side.

Serves 4

75g caster sugar
2 tbsp blossom honey
2 fresh verbena sprigs (or a handful of dried)
500g mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants)
freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Pour 500ml of water into a pan, add the sugar and honey and bring to the boil.  Add the verbena and simmer for 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, cover and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. Remove the verbena. Pour the liquid into a bowl, add the fruit, then leave to cool. Chill the soup in the fridge until it is very cold. Just before serving I like to add a little freshly ground black pepper.

Cook more from this book
Monkfish cooked in the style of lamb
Basque-style chicken

Read the review

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

Monkfish Cooked in the Style of Lamb by Michel Roux Jr

monkfish

(GIGOT DE LOTTE PIQUÉ À L’AIL ET ROMARIN)

This is an impressive dish but very easy and quick to cook. You do need a nice chunky piece of monkfish, though, for the recipe to work properly, so talk to your fishmonger. The sauce is full of flavour but not rich – I’ve kept the amount of cream down and there’s not a lot of oil. Lovely served with sautéed new potatoes.

Serves 4

4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 large monkfish tail (about 1.25kg), bone in, skinned and trimmed
1 rosemary sprig
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
150ml dry white wine
4 tbsp crème fraîche
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut each clove of garlic into 4 slices. Cut little incisions in the fish and push a sliver of garlic and a few rosemary needles into each one. Preheat the oven to 220°C/Fan200°C/Gas 7.

Rub the fish with olive oil and season it well. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a roasting tin on the hob, add the fish and sear it on all sides. Place the tin in the preheated oven and roast the fish for 15 minutes. Remove and take the fish out of the tin, then set it aside to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes. While the fish is resting, make the sauce.

Place the roasting tin over a high heat, add the shallot and cook until it’s just starting to colour. Add the wine and any juices that have run from the resting fish and boil for 2–3 minutes. Add the crème fraîche, then bring the sauce back to the boil and check the seasoning. Take the fish to the table to carve into portions and serve it with the sauce.

Cook more from this book
Basque-style chicken
Fruit soup with verbena

Read the review

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

Basque-Style Chicken by Michel Roux Jr

chicken basque style

(POULET BASQUAISE)

This is a really good simple supper – everything you need in one pot. I like to make it with chicken legs, as they are more flavourful than breast and less likely to be dry. Espelette chillies are grown in the Basque region in southwest France and have a beautifully mild, fragrant taste that is perfect for this dish. If you can’t find any, just use other chillies to taste. This is a dish that’s even better when made in advance and then reheated.

Serves 4

12 new potatoes, scrubbed
4 chicken legs
1 tbsp smoked paprika
4 tbsp olive oil
2 red, green or yellow peppers, halved and seeded
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
200ml white wine
1 tbsp piment d’espelette (see page 8) or chilli flakes
4 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the potatoes in half, put them in a pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Cook them for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. Joint the chicken legs into thighs and drumsticks – or ask your butcher to do this for you. Season them with salt and smoked paprika. Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan or a flameproof casserole dish and fry the chicken pieces until golden brown on both sides. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.

Slice the peppers into long strips and fry them in the same pan until tender, then add the onions, garlic and par-boiled potatoes. Cook them over a medium heat for 5–6 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/ Gas 6.

Tie the bay leaves and thyme sprigs together and add them to the pan along with the wine and piment d’espelette or chilli flakes. Add extra chilli if you like your food really spicy.

Add the tomatoes, then put the chicken and any juices back into the pan and stir gently. Put a lid on the pan or cover it tightly with foil and place it in the oven for 30 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear. Check the seasoning, then serve or set aside to enjoy later.

Cook more from this book
Monkfish cooked in the style of lamb
Fruit soup with Verbena

Read the review

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

Sole, Jerusalem artichoke, black truffle by Mauro Colagreco

Sole Jerusalem artichoke Black truffle - Copyright Eduardo Torres

SERVES 4

FOR THE SOLE
Sole, 2 from 300-400 g
Jerusalem artichokes, 500 g
Sunflower oil, 500 cc
Dairy cream, 100 cc approx.
Shallot, 1
Chive, 10 g
Large mushrooms, 2
Extra virgin olive oil, 20 cc
Beurre noisette, 100 g
Hazelnuts, 50 g
Mushroom powder (dried and ground)
Black truffle (autumnal)
Pimpernel, 12 leaves
Sea salt

FOR THE LIME GEL
Lime juice, 250 cc
Agar-agar 3.5 g

PREPARATION

SOLE
Fillet the soles and set aside. Wrap the Jerusalem artichokes in aluminium foil and oven roast at 180°C for approximately 40 minutes, until done. Remove the foil, make a slit on top and squeeze to extract the pulp. Retain the peel and dry it at 60°C. Set aside. Transfer the pulp to the Thermomix, add 50 cc of cream for every 200 g of pulp, process, then strain. Transfer to a 1-charger siphon and reserve in a 50°C bain-marie.

Brunoise-cut the shallot. Mince the chives. Brunoise-cut the mushroom stems. Add the shallot to a heat hot suaté pan with olive oil, then add and brown the mushrooms. Remove from heat, season with salt and add the chives. Set aside.

Cut two slices of mushroom and dust with the mushroom powder. Dry at room temperature. Cook the sole for 5 minutes in a 70°C combi oven at 30% humidity. Matching up the edges, lay one dorsal fillet atop the lower fillet.
Toast the hazelnut in butter in a saucepan until the butter is browned (noisette).
Fry the Jerusalem artichoke in 180°C sunflower oil.

LIME GEL
Mix the lime juice and agar-agar in a saucepan, bring to a boil and whisk for 2 minutes. Once the mixture has cooled, process in a blender until it has a gel-like consistency. Transfer to a squeeze bottle.

PLATING
Set a base of sautéed mushrooms on a plate and, on top, arrange the sole, two dots of Jerusalem artichoke foam, some of the crisped Jerusalem artichoke, beurre noisette and hazelnuts atop the sole, mushroom slices and black truffle slices. Finish with two dots of lime gel and pimpernel leaves.

Cook more from this book
Turbot Celeriac Sorrel
Grouper rosemary sorrel

Read the review

Buy this book
Mirazur (English)
Catapulta, £70

Grouper Rosemary Salsify by Mauro Colagreco

Grouper  Rosemary  Salsify - Copyright Eduardo Torres.jpg

SERVES 10

FOR THE GROUPER
Grouper (from 2.5 kg), 1
Extra virgin olive oil, 100 cc
Thyme, 1 sprig

FOR THE ROSEMARY SAUCE
Shallot, 20 g
Butter, 20 g
Dairy cream, 500 cc
Rosemary, 4 g
Spinach, 200 g
Leek greens, 25 g

FOR THE GRAPE GEL
White grape juice, 500 cc
Ascorbic acid, 1 g
Agar-agar, 11 g

FOR THE WILD SALSIFY
Wild salsify, 20
Milk, 1 l
Butter, 500 g
Star anise, 1
Cardamom, 2 grains
Black peppercorns, 3

FOR THE SPANISH SALSIFY
Spanish salsify, 1
Ascorbic acid
Shallot, 5 g
Butter, 1 knob

PREPARATION

GROUPER
Fillet the fish, remove the spines and cut into 80 g portions. Transfer to a vacuum bag with the olive oil and thyme, seal and cook in a steam oven at 65°C for for 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the bag to an ice bath. Place the fish skin-side down into a hot sauté pan and cook until it takes on a good colour. Remove the fish and let it rest skin up for a minute and a half. Place skin down under a salamander to finish cooking.

ROSEMARY SAUCE
Sweat the minced shallot in a pot with a little butter, add the cream and reduce by half. Add the rosemary sprigs and allow to infuse for 5 minutes. Taste to check if the cream has the desired flavour, if so, discard the rosemary. Transfer the cream to a food
processor, add the spinach and leek greens and process. Pass through a fine strainer. Chill quickly so the sauce doesn’t oxidise and change colour. Reserve.

GRAPE GEL
Use a juicer to extract 500 cc of juice from white grapes. Heat 300 cc of the juice in a saucepan with ascorbic acid, add the agar-agar and, stirring constantly, boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add the remaining grape juice, and chill.

WILD SALSIFY
Peel each wild salsify and, before peeling the next, place into the milk. Blanch them in boiling milk for 30 seconds, remove and transfer to a tray with the butter, star anise, cardamom and black pepper. Oven roast at 130°C, turning every 10 minutes, until
golden brown. Set aside.

SPANISH SALSIFY
Peel the Spanish salsify, use a Japanese mandoline to slice thinly and soak in the water with ascorbic acid. Glaze with the finely minced shallot and butter until the slices are pliable enough to roll.

PLATING
Arrange two wild salsify on each plate, two grape halves (previously blanched in boiling water for 10 seconds, shocked in ice water, peeled and seeded) and the grape gel. Brush the plate with rosemary sauce, add a salsify roll, rosemary flowers atop the salsify, one white grape per portion and then the grouper.

Cook more from this book
Turbot Celeriac Sorrel
Sole Jerusalem artichoke black truffle

Read the review

Buy this book
Mirazur (English)
Catapulta, £70

Turbot Celeriac Sorrel by Mauro Colagreco

Turbot Celeriac Sorrel - Copyright Eduardo Torres

SERVES 4

FOR THE CELERIAC PURÉE
Celeriac, 300 g
Butter, 100 g
Milk, 50 cc
Salt

FOR THE SMOKED SAUCE
Extra virgin olive oil
Garlic, 1 clove
Dog cockles (cleaned and drained), 1 kg
Water, 100 cc
Melted butter, 700 g

FOR THE TURBOT
Turbot fillet with skin (min. 700 g approximately), 1
Clarified butter

PREPARATION

CELERIAC PURÉE
Peel and cube the celeriac. Cook the cubes in butter, without allowing them to colour. Add the milk, then cover the pan with baking parchment. The celeriac must be cooked rapidly and needs to be soft. Process in a blender (such as Vitamix) until smooth. Season
with salt.

SMOKED SAUCE
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the crushed clove of garlic, dog cockles and water, and cook for 15 minutes. Pass the cooking liquid through a fine strainer; the yield is approximately 700 cc. Add the 700 g of melted butter to the cooking liquid and transfer to a baking pan. Place the pan in a smoker using copper beechwood for 20 minutes. Reserve in a deep but not wide saucepan.

TURBOT
Bake the turbot for 8 minutes in a 75°C combi oven set at 10% humidity. When done, remove the skin and cut into approximately 90 g portions. Brush with clarified butter.

PLATING
Rapidly sauté 50 grams of sorrel in olive oil, then arrange it in the centre of the plates. Set a quenelle of the celeriac purée on the side of the sorrel and the fish atop. Use a hand blender (such as Bamix) to emulsify the very hot sauce and distribute it around the fish. Finish the plates with wild sorrel leaves and fleur de sel.

Cook more from this book
Sole, Jerusalem artichoke, black truffle
Grouper rosemary salsify

Read the review

Buy this book
Mirazur (English)
Catapulta, £70

Saffron in the Souks by John Gregory-Smith

saffron in the souks 2

What’s the USP? An accessible introduction to Lebanese cuisine with an element of travelogue thrown in for good measure.

Who is the author? John Gregory-Smith is a chef, presenter and author specialising in Middle Eastern and North African food. He has written four other cookbooks: Orange Blossom and Honey, Turkish Delights, Mighty Spice Express and Mighty Spice Cookbook.
His food and travel journalism has appeared in numerous publications including Condé Nast Traveller and the Evening Standard.

What does it look like? The book is full of vibrant, colourful dishes and peppered with some gorgeous images of the coasts, mountains and valleys that make up the Lebanese landscape.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a four page introduction and well written and interesting recipe introductions, but this is however primarily a recipe book, and none the worse for it.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may not be able to get the odd thing like Aleppo pepper, Arabic cucumber, brined vine leaves or moghrabieh (Lebanese couscous) from the supermarket, but a swift google will sort you out.

What’s the faff factor? Some of the recipes require forward planning to prepare marinades and there are a few with long ingredients lists, but mostly the dishes are straightforward and relatively simple to cook.

How often will I cook from the book? Once you’re stocked up on baharat, za’atar, sumac and pomegranate molasses, the recipes are straightforward, varied and delicious enough that Saffron in the Souks could easily become a go-to book for when you want a mid-week meal with a bit of zing or when you’ve got a crowd to feed.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? ‘Handfuls’ and ‘bunches’ of herbs abound, but that’s partly down to the style of the cuisine. Aside from that, you should have no worries.

Killer recipes? Garlic chicken wings with coriander and pistachio pesto; sticky pomegranate sujuk; crispy za’atar calamari; roasted carrots with tahini and black sesame seeds; mighty medina falafel sandwich; kebab king chicken shawarma.

What will I love? The recipe introductions are much more than just serving suggestions and offer insights into Lebanese cuisine and anecdotes from Gregory-Smith’s travels.

What won’t I like? The okra recipes. No one likes okra do they? (You’re quite safe, there’s only two of them).

Should I buy it? Gregory-Smith has got some strong competition in the Middle Eastern recipe book market, going head to head with Ottolenghi, but if you are a fan of the cuisine and looking for new ideas or a novice in need of a guiding hand, then this is worth purchasing.

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

Buy this book
Saffron in the Souks: Vibrant recipes from the heart of Lebanon
£25, Kyle Books

Fare magazine

Fare Glasgow

What’s the USP? They say, ‘Fare is a bi-annual print publication exploring city culture through the intersection of food, history, and community.’ If I wanted to be profoundly annoying, I’d say it was a bookazine, but as I don’t want to be profoundly annoying, let’s just say, it’s its own thing. So, not a cookbook and there’s no recipes, but if you like Cook Book Review you are probably going to be interested in Fare.

Who’s the editor? Ben Mervis is a food writer who has previously worked at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen and has worked as a researcher and industry expert with the excellent Chef’s Table documentary series on Netflix. Contributors include some of the top names in food writing, including in the latest issue, Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin.

Is it great bedtime reading? It’s nothing but great bedtime reading. Each edition of the magazine takes a city as its subject and delves deep into it’s culture through a series of essays, photo-stories and illustrations. Destinations covered so far are Istanbul, Helsinki, Charleston, Seoul and, in the latest edition published July 2019, Glasgow

What will I love? It’s a beautiful object. Printed on a mix of high quality matt and gloss paper and roughly the size of a hardback novel (although the magazine itself is soft cover) it just feels great to hold and read. The art direction by Ric Bell is top class, and with roughly equal space given to word and image, there’s room for both satisfyingly long form writing and aesthetically pleasing visuals.

What won’t I like? You’ve come to Cook Book Review for the food, so in that context it’s worth underlining that Fare is not a food magazine exclusively, but the subject is dealt with comprehensively. In the Seoul issue for example, there are articles about Buddhist nun and chef Jeong Kwan (featured in an episode of Chef’s Table), Mingles restaurant, Fritz Coffee Company, budae jjigae (or army base stew), the Korean dish of ‘cold noodles’ and a photo essay on Noryangjin fish market, among others.

Should I buy it? I don’t know of any publication quite like Fare. It’s fascinating, educational, a pleasure to read and looks cool. Surely worth twelve quid (plus shipping) of anyone’s money.

Buy this magazine: Fare

 

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

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

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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

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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

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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 cooks
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