It’s tempting to pigeon-hole Lee Tiernan, chef and proprietor of cult north London restaurant Black Axe Mangal as some sort of ‘rock ‘n’ roll chef’. His pizza oven is emblazoned with the faces of the rock group Kiss, he blasts a soundtrack of heavy metal into Black Axe Mangal’s intimate dining room (a converted kebab shop) and the flavours of dishes like the signature squid ink flatbread with smoked cod’s roe are turned up to 11.
But behind all the raucousness there is a considered, thoughtful and meticulous cook. On the subject of bread, which he says is the ‘anchor’ of his cuisine, he quotes food writer Richard Olney and calls it a ‘symbol of sustenance’ and explains that his seven-page recipe for flatbread was perfected with the help of Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco.
Another influence on Tiernan’s cooking is Fergus Henderson for whom Tiernan worked for over a decade, including a stint as head chef of St John Bread and Wine. Dishes such as shrimp-encrusted pig’s tails with pickled chicory; braised hare, chocolate and pig’s blood with mash; and oxtail, bone marrow and anchovy wouldn’t look out of place on a St John menu (Tiernan has also included the famous St John rarebit recipe in the book). But Tiernan unquestionably has his own distinctive style. As Henderson notes in his introduction, ‘Lee has borrowed my bone marrow, my cod’s roe, my pig’s blood, but they are not what shape him’.
The autobiographical introduction is full of stories and anecdotes from Tiernan’s colourful past. As a child, he took fussy eating to such extremes (including hiding unwanted meals under a loose floorboard in the family home) that his mother consulted a doctor about his lack of appetite. Black Axe Mangal’s origins as a pop up in ‘a grimy, graffiti-smeared Copenhagen night club’ where Tiernan cooked thousands of kebabs in a ‘ramshackle shed’ makes for entertaining reading.
The liberal seasoning of salty language and peppering of softcore glamour shots (older readers may be reminded of the Rude Food books from the late 70’) may be off-putting to some, but the step by step instructions on the key skills of grilling, smoking and baking that help define Tiernan’s food, along with the story behind his success, provide an insight into one of the UK’s most exciting and original chefs and make Black Axe Mangal an essential purchase.
Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
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Black Axe Mangal
This review was originally published by The Caterer