The Quality Chop House
William Lander, Daniel Morgenthau and Shaun Searley
Described as a cookbook about a restaurant and not a restaurant cookbook, The Quality Chop House gives an enlightening but not laborious glimpse into the history of the building and the frequency it changed hands (the 1876 patron W Trevelyan stayed just two years, while 1888 owner PF Harris was ensconced there for a more respectable 15 years) – charting its move to ‘a progressive working class caterer’ serving no-nonsense British food. Some 70 years later, hearty British food remains the cornerstone of the restaurant’s menu, as do its legions of locals.
Introductions over, recipes make up the bulk of this book, with head chef Shaun Searley selecting ones that avoid striking fear into the heart of the amateur cook (except what are described as ‘a few elaborate dishes’). Many are not for complete dishes found on the menu but give a taste of what the restaurant is about.
The book is broken down into elements including snacks, starters, meat, mains, Sunday roasts and desserts, as well as focusing on the family meal, eaten each day at 4pm. Recipes are approachable and concise, each coming with a brief personal intro, such as ‘adding chopped boiled eggs calms down the acidity’; and ‘perfect for when all your money seems to have vanished’) by way of subtle hand-holding. There is also a separate section on the retail side of the business, looking at the adjoining QCH shop and its sandwich and carefully crafted wine offer.
Self indulgence: ✪✪
Must try recipe: The legendary confit potatoes
Number of pages: 256
Publication and price: Quadrille, £30
Signature Dishes that Matter
Chefs have long had a fascination with signature dishes – either creating their own to say something about their style of cooking or looking to others, sometimes for inspiration but more often out of curiosity or admiration. That a book dedicated to signature dishes hasn’t been put together before is something of a mystery, but now it has thanks to Phaidon and a team of international curators.
The book’s premise is to offer a history of gastronomy told through the most iconic dishes of the past three centuries and features some 200 dishes from more than 180 chefs across 30 countries. As a result, much is covered, from the iconic – the first ever gelato created in 1686; Marie-Antoine Carême’s vol-au-vent; the Big Mac – to the highly technical – the Adria brothers’ spherical green olives – and everything in between, from pies to burgers.
Part historical reference, part cookbook, it isn’t shackled in its scope by being the latter. While it includes recipes for contemporary dishes, even very complex ones such as the vegetable pulp burger served at Blue Hill, other entries are scant. Thus there is no original recipe for Casimir Moisson’s tournedos Rossini or for Anna potatoes, while other recipes are brutally to the point (ones for mapo tofu, tonkatsu and peach melba are just two sentences long).
To get round the problem of photography given that some dishes precede the photographic age, the book features illustrations for each dish, although the sketch-style drawings often don’t do justice to the dishes they depict.
Must try recipe: Impossible to pick
Number of pages: 448
Publication and price: Phaidon, £35
Jordi Roca and Ignacio Medina
Dedicated to the world’s cacao growers, described as the ‘forgotten side of chocolate’, Casa Cacao provides a thorough and fascinating insight into the origins of cocoa and its production through the eyes of one of the world’s most respected chocolatiers.
The book follows Jordi Roca, pastry chef at former World’s Best Restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, on his travels through the cocoa fields of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, where he speaks with producers in the interior of the jungle as well as in new areas where some of the highest quality cocoa is being produced. The book then goes on to describe the way the cocoa crop becomes transformed into the fermented and dry bean from which chocolate is obtained.
Casa Cacao is no mere travelogue, however. The book also documents Roca’s return to his chocolate workshop in Spain, where he demonstrates a number of surprisingly simple chocolate recipes given his reputation (provided you have access to gellan gum, glycerine and glucose). These include chocolate mousse, chocolate chip cookies and brownies and a classic chocolate fondant.
Those expecting something a little more challenging from Roca won’t be disappointed, however. Among the book’s 75 recipes are descriptions on how to make his striking multi-coloured Mexican bonbons and there’s also a section on using chocolate in savoury cuisine, with recipes for dishes such as snails with spider crab and cacao; and cacao pulp and spiced chocolate sauce with langoustines.
Self indulgence: ✪✪
Must try recipe: Steamed brioche with chocolate ganache
Number of pages: 352
Publication and price: Grub Street, £35
The Food of Sichuan
Published way back in 2003, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery (also published as Land of Plenty) was a landmark cookbook exploring one of China’s most fascinating regions. The Cambridge graduate was the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu and has played a key role in popularising the hot and numbing food of Sichaun both in and out of home (Dunlop has consulted at a number of London Chinese restaurants, including Sichuan stalwart Barshu).
The original version – which is regularly featured on best ever cookbook lists – has been out of print for some time but this has now been remedied with a beautifully updated and expanded edition called The Food of Sichuan.
The comprehensive book starts with a thorough explanation of Sichaunese cooking and the region’s wider cultural context, followed by detailed information on equipment, ingredients and basic technique (much of this is applicable to other branches of Chinese cuisine) before moving into the region’s different culinary styles, the art of flavour, texture and cutting. The book maps out what Dunlop describes as the 23 flavours of Sichuan and its 56 different cooking methods.
Recipes include addictive Sichuanese classics such as mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork and gong bao chicken as well as some less obvious dishes including numbing and hot dried beef and green beans in ginger sauce.
The Food of Sichuan is a masterclass in food writing and deserves the attention of any chef with even a passing interest in Chinese food and cooking technique.
Self indulgence: ✪
Must try recipe: Red-braised beef with radish
Number of pages: 480
Publication and price: Bloomsbury, £30
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare
The pleasingly bold and brash French restaurant group behind London’s Gloria and Circolo Popolare isn’t – it must be said – an obvious candidate for a Phaidon cookbook. The irreverent Paris-founded yet Italian-themed restaurant group that managed to inject some much needed je ne sais quoi into the UK’s Italian casual dining scene isn’t chef-led and hasn’t been on these shores for long, with both London restaurants having only opened last year.
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare is a greatest hits of the group’s numerous dishes, which are usually tweaked versions of Italian classics. There’s silly dish titles – Egg Sheeran (poached eggs with cress cream); Pizza Yolo (fig, walnut and mozzarella pizza); Lob’star Pasta (linguine with lobster); and burratelli (tortellini with burrata and tomatoes) – quirky tableware that’s reflective of the restaurant themselves, and free-handed use of butter, truffles and cheese.
The group, which was founded by Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux, is equally brash with its drinks selection, which is also given a good billing in the book. Drinks recipes include some of its most popular cocktails, such as (silly name alert) Daft Punch and Colada Me Later.
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare isn’t a book for those looking for a detailed and serious insight into Italian cooking technique, but as a look at how a restaurant group has repackaged Italian cuisine in a quirky manner to create smash-hit venues makes for an interesting read. Buon appetitio.
Self indulgence: ✪✪
Must try recipe: La Gran Carbonara (spaghetti carbonara)
Number of pages: 380
Publication and price: Phaidon, £27.95
There’s no prizes for guessing that this is a comprehensive source of inspiration for chefs looking to put more game on their menus – as well as the home cook starting out with game. With more (just) than 100 recipes from some of the biggest chef names in the UK restaurant sector, it’s certainly not short on culinary creativity or recipes.
Ben Tish has written the foreword and the names of those who have helped compile the book is impressive to say the least. Alongside household names you would imagine are dab hands with game – Jeremy Lee, Brian Turner, Simon Hopkinson, Phil Howard, Margot Henderson, Richard Corrigan, John Williams, Lisa Goodwin-Allen; the list goes on – are chefs you wouldn’t traditionally associate with the ingredient – Angel Zapata Martin, Takashi Miyazaki, Martin Morales and Max Halley – who bring a different element to the book.
Many dishes are suitable for home cooks but it does feature more ambitious recipes that require a fair bit of know-how, specialist kitchen equipment, a lot of time and advance planning.
There’s more to the book than mere inspiration; it also conveys the message that using more game in cooking could help tackle current pressing problems such as climate change, sustainability, dwindling food sources and obesity thanks to it often being much leaner than farmed meats and having a relatively small carbon footprint.
The more people get behind and support game now, the easier to obtain and more affordable it will become in the future, is the overarching message.
Self indulgence: ✪
Must try recipe: Classic venison wellington
Number of pages: 448
Publication and price: Face Publications, £40
This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector, subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.