Simply Delicious by Darina Allen

Darina Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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