Stark is no ordinary Michelin-starred restaurant. In December 2016, chef proprietor Ben Crittenden, formerly of the West House in Biddenden, converted a sandwich shop in Broadstairs and, working alone in a tiny kitchen, served creative tasting menus to a dozen customers a night. A rave review on the Guardian in 2017 was followed by a Michelin star in 2019. This year, Stark moved to larger premises in the same road and there are plans to turn the original restaurant into a tapas bar.
It’s fitting then that Stark is also no ordinary cookbook. In addition to the recipes, 42 of them such as Hake, mushroom, dashi, and Poussin, korma, grape (there are also a dozen tapas dishes including a wagyu slider), the extraordinary story of the restaurant is told with breath-taking honesty from both sides of the pass, Ben in the kitchen and Sophie, whose contributions appear in bold text in the book, front of house.
In his introduction, Ben Crittenden says ‘there’s no sugar coating or PR spin’ and he is true to his word. At one point in his career, the pressure of work coupled with a draining extended daily commute see Crittenden contemplating steering his car into the central reservation rather than face another day in the kitchen. On a business trip to San Sebastian, he recalls standing on the ledge of a hotel balcony, ready to jump.
But it’s Sophie Crittenden’s voice that really sets this book apart. Being able to understand the devasting impact of a severe lack of work-life balance on the couple’s relationship and family life (the Crittendens have three children) is sobering. Their personal life is laid out so barely that at times it feels like eavesdropping on a private conversation. But that searing honestly is what makes Stark such a compulsive read and so valuable to anyone considering following in the Crittenden’s footsteps and opening their own restaurant.
This review was first published in The Caterer magazine.
Cuisine: Progressive British
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Cook from this book
Duck liver parfait
Poussin, korma, grape
Pecan pie, banana, chocolate