What’s the USP? Recipes from one of the great innovators of modern Spanish cuisine.
Give me some background. Global restaurant fashions come and go, but San Sebastian in Northern Spain, with its thrilling mix of casual pinxcho bars and cutting edge high-end restaurants, remains a place of true gastronomic pilgrimage. It’s home to a constellation of Michelin stars including Arzak, Mugaritz, Martin Berasategui and Akelare, run by legendary chef Pedro Subljana for nearly forty years.
Occupying a commanding position west of the city centre on the slopes of Mount Igueldo with stunning views over the Bay of Biscay, Akelare has maintained three Michelin star status since 2007 for its imaginative and playful ‘New Basque Cuisine’ (the Spanish equivalent of Nouvelle Cuisine).
What does it look like? Stunning. It’s more like an artist’s portfolio than a cookbook with visually arresting images of dishes such as ‘zebra squid’; roast loin of hare a la royale with chestnuts and razor clam with veal shank.
Is it good bedtime reading? Move along please, there’s nothing to see here.
Killer recipes? An amuse bouche based around bathroom toiletries that includes tomato flavoured liquid soap, onion sponge, Idiazábal cheese moisturiser and bath salts made from potato starch, prawn and rice ‘sand’.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Zopako bread, Beasain onion morcilla and ‘cortrezas de trigo’ (wheat snacks similar to pork scratching) may well be difficult for British cooks and chefs to lay their hands on.
What’s the faff factor? On the inside cover, it says, ‘This book was printed using the font ‘faff’. Look up the word ‘faff’ in the dictionary and you will see a picture of the cover of this book. I took the book to my doctor and he told me it had a terminal case of faff. I showed the book to Darth Vader and he said, ‘The faff is strong with this one’. It is number one on the faff parade. It was pulled over by the police for being three times over the faff limit. An Irishman, a Scotsman and an Englishman went into a bar specifically to agree that Akelare: New Basque Cuisine by Pedro Subljana had the highest faff factor of any cookbook ever published. So, um, yeah, there’s a lot of faff.
How often will I cook from the book? Don’t take this the wrong way, but unless you are a professional chef interested in modernist, progressive cooking, you are highly unlikely to have the skills, resources or time to tackle these recipes. I certainly don’t.
What will I love? A short introductory section, including a page from Subljana himself, prefaces the main body of the book. Articles on the restaurant’s cookery school and associated Basque Culinary Centre, service at the restaurant and suggested wine pairing for the featured recipes round out the book.
What won’t I like? Just 23 out of the book’s 240 pages are taken up with recipes in English meaning methods tend to be on the sketchy side, not ideal with such technical food. Spanish and Basque translations of the text occupy a significant amount of space; fine if you’re reading a free in-flight magazine but a tad galling if you’ve splashed out thirty quid on a relatively slim glossy cookbook. Although beautiful to look at and a real pleasure to browse, the book suffers from a case of style over substance, something that New Basque Cuisine itself could be accused of.
Should I buy it? There are two reasons to buy this book: as a memento of a meal enjoyed or an invitation to make a reservation at the restaurant if this sort of Spanish sleight of hand still floats your culinary boat in 2018.
Cuisine: Progressive Spanish
Suitable for: Chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars
Buy this book
£30, Grub Street