The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver

St John

What’s the USP? The long-awaited follow up to 2007’s Beyond Nose to Tail from one of the UK’s most distinguished and influential chefs Fergus Henderson and his business partner Trevor Gulliver. The publication coincides with the 25th anniversary of the opening of St John restaurant near Smithfield market in London, world-famous for dishes such as roast bone marrow with parsley salad that celebrate offal and have influenced several generations of chefs in the UK and around the world, including the late Anthony Bourdain who was Henderson’s biggest fan.

What’s great about it? Although a much admired and imitated style, no one does St John cooking quite like Fergus Henderson; he is after all its progenitor. Adding The Book of St John will bring something distinctive to your cookbook collection and might well expand your culinary horizons. You may even be converted to tripe, although you will probably want to take a deep breath before you try it pickled. You begin the recipe by boiling the tripe in water which Henderson says is ‘reminiscent of the not-so-proverbial dog’s dinner’. Yum.      

What’s different about it? No one writes a recipe quite like Fergus. You will either find his whimsicality completely charming or maddeningly vague. One recipe calls for ‘6 happy tomatoes’. The recipe for ‘An Instant Pickle’ consists of a thinly sliced onion, a pinch of salt and a splash of red wine vinegar which you ‘massage’ together. ‘Grated garlic and a showing of thyme are good additions’. Well, thanks for all the detail Fergus. Elsewhere we are instructed to mix cucumbers and salt ‘thoroughly but tenderly’ and in another recipe, you ‘dress, tumble and serve’ a salad, after which Henderson instructs us to ‘Rejoice in the uncomplicated’. The recipes are however detailed where they need to be and pretty straightforward to follow, so you certainly won’t be wasting your money if you invest in a copy. 

Killer recipes? Crispy lamb’s brains; faggots; beef mince on dripping toast; potted pork; Henderson’s brine recipe; pig’s tongues, butter beans and green sauce; St John chutney; trotter gear (a sort of rich, jellied pig’s trotter stock); chicken bacon and trotter pie; steamed syrup sponge and custard; pear and sherry trifle; salted chocolate and caramel tart; negroni sorbet; Welsh rarebit; Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese; quail stuffed whole roast pig.

Should I buy it? If you own Nose to Nail or Beyond Nose to Tail, Henderson’s two previous books then the answer is probably no unless you are a Henderson fanatic or completist. The St John style hasn’t really wavered much from the word go, which is sort of the whole point, so The Book of St John doesn’t add much to our sum of knowledge about the restaurant and its food.

You will also find some familiar recipes including Eccles cakes, madeleines, the famous doughnuts and seed cake and a glass of Madeira (all of which were credited to Justin Gellatly when they appeared in the omnibus edition The Complete Nose to Tail. Gellatly was Henderson’s head baker until 2013 when he launched his own London bakery Bread Ahead which sells thousands of doughnuts a day. Gellatly is not mentioned anywhere in The Book of St John). Other previously published recipes include anchovy, little gem and tomato salad; ham and parsley sauce and trotter gear and many familiar ingredients including pickled walnuts, ox tongue, brains and snails.

If you don’t own any Henderson, then The Book of St John is as good a place as any to start. It looks sleek, with its gold-lined pages, the photography by legendary food photographer Jason Lowe is as excellent as you’d expect and there are some nice articles and anecdotes from Henderson and Gulliver dotted throughout the book. On the downside, the index is annoyingly incomplete which makes tracking down one or two of the recipes tricky, but it’s a minor complaint about a very good book.

You might not whip up a plate of grilled ox heart, beetroot and pickled walnut everyday of the week, but The Book of St John may prove invaluable when you’re in the mood for something that but different.

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

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

Cook from this book
Welsh Rarebit 
Grilled lamb hearts, peas and mint
Salted caramel and chocolate tart 

 

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)