Pollen Street The Cookbook
Given his penchant for penning books, it seems strange that Jason Atherton hasn’t already written one to accompany his flagship Mayfair restaurant Pollen Street Social. Now, seven and a half years after launching the restaurant, he has, and as you’d expect from a chef with such a keen eye for detail, it’s worth the wait.
Showcasing 80 of the best recipes from his Michelin-starred restaurant, Pollen Street The Cookbook takes a peak at some of Atherton’s most impressive creations. Except for the few mandatory black and white pictures of staff setting up the restaurant for the day, there is surprisingly very little reference to Atherton or his restaurant between the pages with the chef instead letting his food do the talking.
Each recipe is given space to breathe over four pages, and the impact is dramatic. Starting with canapés, the book is divided into chapters on shellfish, fish, meat and game, poultry, game birds, sweets and finally petits fours, closing neatly with instructions on how to make his exquisite dark chocolate bon bons with praline and feuilletine filling.
Atherton has again employed the camera skills of John Carey, who is making a name for himself with high-end restaurant tomes, having also shot The Ritz London cookbook and The Claridge’s cookbook. Carey has done Atherton’s dishes justice, helping create one of the most beautiful cookbooks to have passed our desks in a while.
Self indulgence: *
Must try recipe: Cumbrian suckling pig with lardo roast potatoes
Publisher and price: Bloomsbury, £50
The Ritz London The Cookbook
Anyone hoping that chef John Williams doesn’t hold back on some of the painstaking preparations that makes The Ritz one of the most memorable places to eat in the world won’t be disappointed by his cookbook that celebrates this iconic London hotel. You can read, for example, Williams’ homage to terrine – “a thing of greatness” – before he goes on to describe the four-day preparation required to make it (although, as he states, not four entire days, but just a little bit of prep on each day).
The resulting dish is just one of many that demonstrate the care and patience required to obtain approval from the hotel’s often famous and always fastidious guests (there is even a short section on cooking with patience). Its recipe for the classic Edwardian dessert Mont Blanc is equally daunting, and enough to test the patience of even the most calm of pastry chefs.
The Ritz is a place of grandeur – the last bastion of the jacket and tie dress code in London – and Williams’ book captures this perfectly. While it isn’t likely to get you reaching for the pots and pans, such is the nature of many of its recipes, as an exemplar of classic and timeless dishes, it is an invaluable book that also lets the reader peer behind the screen of one of the capital’s most enduring institutions.
For Williams’ anecdote on the eating habits of the late Margaret Thatcher, it is worth the cover price alone.
Self indulgence: **
Must try recipe: Venison wellington
Publisher and price: Mitchell Beazley, £30
In My Blood
Bo Bech’s self-published book begins with the Danish chef and restaurateur answering a questionnaire named after Marcel Proust said to be capable of revealing any person’s innermost thoughts. Among the probity into main character traits, the biggest love of your life, favourite names and the moment and place where you are the happiest, questions include the colour, the flower and bird you care for the most and how you would prefer to die (“satiated and suddenly”, is Bech’s telling response).
If this all sounds a bit deep then it’s done with a light touch, with Bech briefly taking the reader through his Danish restaurant Geist’s conception before discussing ‘the rage’, where he describes his frustration at not being able to ‘crack the code’ of certain ingredients – the bitterness of radicchio, the stringiness of onions, the sweetness of green peas.
Beyond that is the main event, with Geist’s dishes each afforded a spread. While undeniably beautiful, the majority are deceptively simple, often using a maximum of four or five ingredients and with the recipe often running only to two paragraphs. A dish of baked celeriac with condensed buttermilk is just that (the third ingredient is salted butter).
A line in ‘the rage’ section of the book does throw up another interesting insight into Bech’s character, one that the Proustian questionnaire might have missed. “I have been angry at salmon for so many years,” he writes. Maybe it’s time for a proper spell on the psychiatrist’s couch?
Self indulgence: ****
Must try recipe: Morels with veal tail and cocoa
Publisher and price: Self published, £45
Neighbourhood bistro Estela in downtown New York is hot property thanks to its appearance on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and for being where Barack and Michelle Obama choose to eat during the former’s presidency. And yet it remains a restaurant that has stuck to its initial premise of serving comforting and unpretentious food in a bustling atmosphere.
This is down to the vision of Uruguayan chef Ignacio Mattos, whose debut cookbook attempts to lift the lid on what makes Estela tick. Mattos kicks things off by describing himself as an immigrant who cooks, discusses his childhood in a small town outside of Montevideo and talks about how food and the dining table ritual were such important parts of his upbringing. He then goes on to discuss his career, from working with Francis Mallmann in Uruguay to Zuni Café in San Francisco and his time in Italy, France and Spain before making New York his home.
Estela comprises 133 recipes, the majority of which stick to Mattos’ principle of building flavours, his happy place “just at the borderline of too much”.
Despite Estela’s high profile in the world of gastronomy, the recipes within Mattos’ first book are achievable for people of all skills – “as long as you have the ingredients handy, your chances of screwing them up are minimal”, Mattos counsels. It even includes a few nuggets of information to bring a smile to the face, such as that monkfish is deemed so ugly in Spain that it is sold face down at markets.
Self indulgence: **
Must try recipe: Omelette with sea urchin and crème fraîche
Publisher and price: Artisan, £26.99
Juan Pablo Cardenal and John Sarabia
Victor Arginzoniz is a giant among men when it comes to the grill, with his restaurant Etxebarri, tucked away in a tiny village an hour’s drive from Bilbao, a long-time regular on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (it is currently ranked sixth).
A quiet, unassuming man, Arginzoniz has spent the past 25 years honing his skills at the adjustable-height grill that he built himself. Self taught, he grills practically everything, using specific woods for specific ingredients – even the ice cream has a smokey perfume to it.
Now for the first time, people who haven’t made the pilgrimage to the village of Axpe can get a sense of the magic that happens at the restaurant with the publication of this hefty 340-page book that not only takes the reader through the restaurant’s key dishes but gives a sense of the effort that goes into making Etxebarri such a special place.
And there are plenty of snippets that illustrate this. Take Arginzoniz’s approach to cooking anchovies, a fish seemingly unsuitable to his way of cooking because of its vulnerability to fire. The solution: Arginzoniz butterflies and guts two fish, lays one on top of the other flesh to flesh and the ties their tails together before cooking.
Given the complexity of Etxebarri’s grill and Arginzoniz’s diligent sourcing of ingredients, it’s unlikely that the book’s dishes can be satisfactorily replicated outside of the restaurant’s four walls. Reason for a trip there, after all.
Self indulgence: **
Must try recipe: Anchovies cooked over wood coals
Publisher and price: Grub Street, £30
The Nordic Baking Book
Chef Magnus Nilsson isn’t a chef to take shortcuts, as his out-of-the-way restaurant Faviken in Sweden attests. So when he pens a book of Nordic baking, you can be sure that it will be a comprehensive study of a region well known for its baking.
And thus it is. Running to more than 550 pages, and with more than 450 recipes, Nilsson has left no pastry unturned, no flatbread forgotten in this bakery tome, which he regards as a much more in-depth follow up to his The Nordic Cookbook.
Nilsson travelled through Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, visiting bakeries, collecting recipes and talking to food experts, historians and local home cooks, documenting local baking traditions. Recipe selections are based on whether they had enough cultural relevance for a large enough part of the population of the regions and, as such, are relevant to today’s cooks. As Nilsson says: “It was important to me that this book didn’t become some ridiculous list of antiquated recipes that no one cooks any more.”
Following a look at the four grains of the Nordic region – wheat, rye, barley and oats – and a brief history of Nordic bread, the book is split into numerous sections, including breads based using wheat and rye flour; rusks and crackers; Nordic pizza; pancakes and waffles; muffins and individual pastries; layer cakes and tortes; and sweet kringles.
Self indulgence: *
Must try recipe: Icelandic deep-fried doughnut balls
Publisher and price: Phaidon, £29.95