Rob Howell opened Root in 2017 with a mission to create a vegetable-led restaurant that wasn’t vegan nor vegetarian but would have the explicit aim of cooking vegetables brilliantly and making them the star of the show. Though the Bristol restaurant was extremely well-received at launch, the menu has evolved considerably over the years as the former The Pony & Trap head chef developed his own cooking style and gained a better understanding of vegetables via experimentation in the kitchen and going to see growers.
His debut cookbook is a handy reference for any chefs looking to expand their horizons when it comes to vegetable-based dishes. With more and more people looking eat less fish and meat, its publication is well timed. The kitchen at Root - which is based within two shipping containers at Bristol’s Cargo development in Wapping Wharf - is on the basic side so Howell and team rely heavily on straightforward cooking techniques, but the recipes haven’t been dumbed down for the non-professional audience the book is primarily aimed at.
The book is divided into snacks, vegetable-based small plates, a small selection of fish and meat dishes, desserts and finally a larder section with recipes for some of Root’s building blocks, including smoked yoghurt, seaweed vinegar and preserved lemons. Top dishes include beetroot with blackberries, hazelnuts and seaweed; burrata with marinated courgettes and pistachio dukkah; ewe’s curd dumplings with romesco sauce and kohlrabi; and hasselback parsnips with honey-mustard mayonnaise. There’s also a genius riff on McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets with barbecue sauce involving buttermilk-marinated celeriac and gochujang-based sauce as well as a recipe for sardine bolognaise from Root’s owner Josh Eggleton, who has now given Howell and wife Meg carte blanche at Root.
“Vegetables can often be seen as a second class product by chefs but when you see how much time and care goes into growing them you realise that they have exactly the same standing as high quality meat and fish,” says Howell. “This means that chefs than take more pride in preparing them and stop seeing them as just a side or a garnish. It also helps to think carefully about different cooking techniques and what effect they’ll have on the product, just like chefs do with fish or meat.”
To paraphrase Eggleton’s words in the forward, Root is a masterclass in getting the maximum flavour out of vegetables.
Root is out now (Bloomsbury, £26)