Stephen Harris is on the record saying he’d planned to die before writing a cookbook, but thankfully he’s alive and kicking despite having finally done so. As a result, he has become the first British chef to pen a book for Phaidon – an indication of just how highly the self-taught chef is now regarded.
The Sportsman at Seasalter is twice winner of the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards and has helped put the coastal village on the culinary map, and within his book Harris describes some of the ways he has achieved this – from his understanding of Kentish terroir to his willingness to create a style of his own. What is most compelling is his connection between music and food (Harris was formerly in a punk band called The Ignerents). For Harris, ‘the treble is like acidity’, the mid-range he likens to umami and ‘I see salt as the bass’.
The Sportsman not only gives an insight into the mind of the chef, but also into the restaurant itself, with talking heads from head chef Dan Flavell, Shelley Barnfather and Emma Read, who run front of house, and pastry chef Emma Kay, all of whom have had a long and lasting relationship with either Harris or the pub itself.
And then there’s the food. Accompanying beautiful dish shots are accounts of why and how Harris famously makes his own salt – ‘any chef who lives in a place called Seasalter and doesn’t try making his own salt is asleep on the job’ – challenges with using every part of the animals he rears and why focaccia has a place in a restaurant that champions British food.
Self Indulgence: ***
Must try recipe: Brill braised in vin juane with smoked pork
Publisher and price: Phaidon, £29.95
River Cafe 30
Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen and Joseph Trivelli
With sprayed neon pink edges to match the restaurant’s pink wood oven, River Cafe 30 – as the name suggests – celebrates three decades of one of London’s most influential and timeless restaurants.
The book is an updated version of Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray’s original cookbook, published 22 years ago, and features 90 classic recipes from the original, not least the infamous Chocolate Nemesis, as well as 30 previously unpublished recipes from the restaurant today.
These include veal shin slow-cooked with barolo and sag; scallops with sage and capers; and trofie with pesto – all shot by photographer Johnny Pigozzi.
The book also draws on Rogers’ personal experiences at River Cafe over the past 30 years, with stories of the Hammersmith restaurant and her reflections on what it was like to be Gray’s partner (Gray died in 2010). There are also contributions from the likes of regular patrons, including artists Ed Ruscha, Peter Doig and Damien Hirst.
Few can deny the impact that River Cafe has had on the London dining scene over the past few decades, with chefs such as April Bloomfield, Jamie Oliver, Stevie Parle, Jordan Freida, Theo Randall and Tomos Parry having passed through its kitchen before going on to greater things.
Its legacy looms large over the capital and River Cafe 30 is a cool and classy celebration of this.
Self Indulgence: ***
Must try recipe: Slow cooked tomato sauce
Publisher and price: Ebury Press, £28
Meyer's Bakery - Bread and baking in the Nordic kitchen
Claus Meyer is best known as the co-founder of Noma, alongside René Redzepi, and is often credited with being the founder of New Nordic Cuisine, but baking has long been a passion of his. In 2010 he opened the first of a number of artisan bakeries, called Meyers Bageri, in Denmark and recently he took the brand to the States, with two openings in New York.
His new book details recipes of goods available in his bakeries but is no mere shop window for the Meyer brand. Meyer’s Bakery goes deep into the chemistry of bread making and the baking properties of Nordic wheat and grain varieties, from einkorn, emmer and spelt to rye and barley as well as looking into the arcane world of starters and why so much mystique and anxiety – to use Meyer’s words – surrounds their use.
It also addresses the ‘falling number’ – flour quality measurement – dough hydration and core bread temperatures. In short, the book is designed to make readers better bakers, rather than let them recreate Meyer’s own creations.
Thankfully it’s not all graphs, charts and tips – although the sections entitled ‘What’s wrong with my wholegrain/wheat/rye/enriched bread' are particularly helpful – and Meyer’s Bakery contain lots of recipes, ranging from chocolate buns and Nordic kringles to Hungarian potato bread, oat biscuits and scones. Some are trickier than others, but Meyer’s thorough work through all the vagaries of the baking process means that you’ll have them nailed in no time.
Self Indulgence: **
Must try recipe: Brown sugar bread
Publisher and price: Octopus, £25
Claridge’s The Cookbook
Martyn Nail and Meredith Erickson
This cookbook, as the story goes, came about when Canadian writer Meredith Erickson dined at Claridge’s and, upon leaving, requested a copy of its book, only to be told that it didn’t have one. Fast forward a few years and now it does, with Erickson having penned this smart, green tome alongside executive chef Martyn Nail.
Quite why one of London’s most iconic hotels hadn’t previously thought of immortalising its recipes is a mystery, but it’s been worth the wait. Nail has overseen the Claridge’s kitchens for more than 30 years and Claridge’s The Cookbook is as much a documentation of his food over the past three decades as it is the hotel’s, with breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner all covered off with aplomb.
With classic dishes making a comeback, the book is also a useful guide for anyone wanting to perfect the likes of venison or lobster wellington, salmon en croute and the art of carving. And then there’s the recipe for the Claridge’s chicken pie, made with streaky bacon and quails eggs, the dish that prompted Erickson to ask for the hotel’s cook book in the first place.
The book’s beautiful photography is courtesy of John Carey, a regular contributor to this magazine, and his daughter Matilda makes a number of appearances within its pages. She’s certainly picked a good place to make her publishing debut.
Self Indulgence: ***
Must try recipe: Salted caremel ripple marshmallows
Publisher and price: Octopus, £30
Andina - The heart of Peruvian food
If there’s a more colourful cookbook that has been launched in the past year then we haven’t seen it, with chef and restaurateur Martin Morales’ dishes jumping out from the pages. Vibrant colours, contrasts and textures is what makes Peruvian food such an en vogue cuisine, and few have done more than Morales to showcase the country’s interesting ingredients and cooking techniques in this country.
The Ceviche founders’ latest book has a different framework to his first, with dishes and ingredients from the Peruvian Andes the focus this time round. Around half of the 100 recipes found within are selected key dishes from the 11 regions that make up the Peruvian Andes while the other half comprise new recipes that have been influenced by the ingredients and traditions of these regions.
The result is a cookbook that riffs on popular dishes of the day but gives them a Peruvian slant, whether it be with its sweet steamed potato buns, maca croquettes or escabeche steak with choclo corn cream, as well as introducing more unusual dishes – quinoa and cheese pudding; spicy olluco potatoes, oca and beetroot; and sheep’s testes with baby sweetcorn and broad bean sarza.
Readers requiring more information on the 11 aforementioned regions of the Peruvian Andes can turn to the back of the book, where Morales provides stories, histories and traditions associated with them.
Self Indulgence: **
Must try recipe: Infused watermelon and fresco cheese salad
Publisher and price: Quadrille, £27
Hook Line Sinker
Galton Blackiston’s latest cookbook is an ode to the marine life that surrounds his long-standing north Norfolk restaurant Morston Hall.
While country house hotel Morston Hall is not a seafood restaurant per se, fish and shellfish feature prominently and are treated with an unusually deft hand (Blackiston also runs a fish and chip shop down the road directly opposite Cromer pier).
As you would expect from a Norfolk-based chef, there is an abundance of crab recipes including crab bon bons with elderflower mayonnaise; crab jelly with pea panna cotta; and crab claw tempura with lime mayonnaise.
Unlike many cookbooks these days, Hook Line Sinker is just about the recipes: those expecting reams of background on Blackiston and his restaurant will be disappointed, but on the plus side the book is packed with ideas.
Hook Line Sinker has more of consumer flavour than some of the other books that have been published by Face, which include Sat Bains’ Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian. Chapters include Quick and Easy and Stress-Free and all the recipes look to have been designed with domestic cooks in mind.
However, those seeking inspiration for contemporary seafood dishes could do a lot worse. Blackiston’s cooking is interesting and zingy with a healthy amount of Asian influences. Highlights include sea trout wrap with mustard vinaigrette; southern-fried oysters with pickled cucumber and dill emulsion; and a killer fish pie recipe.
Self Indulgence: *
Must try recipe: Blow torch sea bream with sauternes and curry sauce
Publisher and price: Face, £25