Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook

Gotham

You may be forgiven for thinking that the Gotham Bar and Grill was Bruce Wayne’s favourite place for steak. In fact, it’s a very successful restaurant in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Alfred Portale has been it’s chef for well over three decades, during which time he has won the coveted New York Times award of 3 stars. Every successful restaurant must have at least one cookery book to display in it’s lobby and sell to wide eyed tourists, and the Gotham is no exception .

The Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook is more than a souvenir for the travelling gastronome however. The book, with it’s 200 recipes and numerous sidebars containing information on techniques and ingredients provides a complete introduction to modern restaurant food.

The book is beautifully presented on high quality paper, with colour photographs throughout. All the food for the illustrations was prepared by Portale himself . Colour is also put to good use within the text, giving the book a distinctive and lively look.

Portale has an impeccable C V, with time spent working for Troisgros and Guerard. Unusually, he also studied flower arranging which has obviously had an influence on his style of presentation. His signature “Seafood Salad” would not look out of place on your mantelpiece.

Step by step photographic guides are included to demonstrate how these more complex presentations can be achieved. Alternative family style options are also included for those not disposed to attempt elaborate arrangements of food on plates.

Portales obvious passion for food and meticulous attention to detail is communicated throughout the book, despite being ghost written by Andrew Freidman. The extent of this passion is revealed when the reader is informed that about twenty different recipes for curry were tested before settling on the one finally included in the book.

Being an American publication, recipes refer to measurements in terms of cup”, and ingredients such as cilantro and fingerling potatoes. However, this does not prevent the book being highly desirable and very usable for Europeans, albeit with a little patience and care.

As well as the special occasion recipes, the book includes some excellent everyday dishes with a whole section dedicated to soups, snacks and sandwiches. The dessert section is comprehensive with “Warm Chocolate Cake with Toasted Almond Ice Cream” being particularly appealing.

The Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook will be of interested to those of us who enjoy reading collections of recipes as much as the latest Harry Potter. It constitutes a very good introduction to readers beginning to explore and develop their culinary skills, as well as providing lots to excite accomplished cooks wanting to serve something a little bit different at their next dinner party. A recommended purchase.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook
Alfred Portale
$45 Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

El Celler de Can Roca by Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca

El Celler de can Roca

Xanthan gum. Kuzu thickening agent. Calcium gluconolactate. Is your mouth watering yet? No, me neither. Reading the recipes in this hefty, lavishly produced volume about the world famous three Michelin starred restaurant in Girona, Spain, you can’t help but think of the ingredients on the back of a packet of Haribo.

This is the English translation of a book originally published in Spanish in 2013. In those four years, food trends have moved on from the gels, spheres, soils and foams beloved of molecular gastronomy that litter the pages of this book to a far more naturalistic approach. In their measured world of rotovals and sous vide cooking, the Roca brothers (head chef Joan, pastry chef Jordi and sommelier Josep) are so far removed from the wild heat of an open flame that they risk leaving themselves out in the cold.

Nevertheless, there is plenty here to amuse cooks of the progressive persuasion in search of inspiration. A ‘vienetta’ made from black truffle and white asparagus ice cream is a hoot, while Artichoke Flower, built from artichoke petal crisps and served with foie gras soup is a visually stunning creation. Convoluted dishes with grand titles like ‘The World’ (a selection of five snacks inspired by the brothers’ travels to Mexico, Peru, Morocco, Korea and the Lebanon) are broken down into bite-sized recipes for each element which are often quite straightforward and can be cherry picked by those not wanting to replicate Roca plates verbatim.

The 90 recipes included take up less than half the book’s generous 480 pages which leaves plenty of space for a detailed history of the thirty year-old restaurant, a report on a day in the life of El Cellar written by noted Catalan author Josep Maria Fonalleras, and articles on things like the restaurant’s interior design and its wine cellar. A chapter on sauces is particularly revealing – who knew that the ‘sexual tissues’ of sea urchins make good thickeners? But whether or not you find meditations on concepts like ‘techno-emotional cuisine’, ‘transversal creation’ and ‘chromatism’ edifying will depend on how much of a proponent of modernist, avant garde cuisine you are.

Beautifully designed and photographed, El Cellar de Can Roca is unquestionably a desirable object. Fans of books by Ferran Adria and Nathan Myhrvold will lap it up; those of a more classical bent may find the whole thing just too pretentious to swallow.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: Spanish
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

Buy this book 
El Celler de Can Roca
Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca
£30 Grub Street

Sabor: Flavours from a Spanish Kitchen by Nieves Barragan Mohacho

Sabor

Nieves Barragan Mohacho’s food has that elusive X factor. Just as you wanted to eat everything on her menus when she was executive chef of the Barrafina group of authentic tapas restaurants in London, so you’ll want to dive straight in and cook the recipes in this, her first solo cookbook outing. Within hours of being delivered, its pages are stained with tomato and smoked paprika and I’m planning a shopping trip for Idiazabal sheep’s milk cheese, Moscatel vinegar and Arbequina olive oil so I can delve deeper into Mohacho’s repertoire of regional and modern Spanish dishes. Sabor is destined to spend more time on my kitchen counter top than my coffee table.

Sabor (Spanish for flavour) is the name of Mohacho’s first venture in partnership with JKS Restaurants. Unusually, the cookbook has been published in advance of the restaurant’s October opening, so it’s difficult to judge how closely the recipes will reflect the menu. Mohacho will be serving dishes from the Basque country, her home region, as well as Galician octopus and the book does include a rich Basque bean stew made with black Tolosa beans, pork ribs, chorizo and morcilla, and a recipe for boiled octopus with smoked sweet paprika and potatoes.

Other restaurant-ready dishes include a colourful and beautifully presented salad of chicory, anchovy and salmorejo (an addictive cold soup made with tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, bread, sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil) and quail marinated in chilli, lemon thyme and garlic and served with honey infused with cloves and star anise.

But the book is really all about home cooking and Mohacho has included childhood favourites such flat green bean, tomato and potato stew and ‘My mum’s braised rabbit in salsa’. Even these domestic dishes offer something novel with ingredients that may be unfamiliar to UK chefs such as dried choricero peppers which are typical of Basque cuisine.

Yet Mohacho is not tied to her heritage. ‘I’m not precious about tradition’ she writes in the introduction and points out that she uses ingredients not common in Spanish cooking such as skate which she serves with pipperada, a Basque pepper stew she’s given her own twist to with the addition of chorizo.

You won’t discover ground breaking techniques or elaborate methods of presentation. But by reading and using Sabor, you will be powerfully reminded of the supreme importance of flavour in cooking, and that can only be a very good thing.

(This review was first published in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: Spanish
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Sabor: Flavours from a Spanish Kitchen
Nieves Barragan Mohacho
£25 Penguin Fig Tree

Cook from this book
Persimmon, goat’s cheese and land cress salad
Pork belly and mojo verde
Doughnuts and hot chocolate sauce