This recipe book remains a favourite, kept alive and always in my thoughts — albeit rather dog-eared — some years after his eponymous restaurant in Soho was shuttered. Once described by Eater as “jazzed-up junk food”, to me it’s much simpler and yet better than those words imply. This is food that comforts, embraces, and cheers. It’s food that reminds you of how your Mum (or Dad) provided for you and the joy that food brought you, whether you were cold, tired, hurt, upset or simply just hungry. It’s that clichė of a restaurant and food that anyone can take refuge in and feel at home. Bring on more of the clichés, say I. Noteworthy here are Lentils, soft-boiled Egg & Anchovy along with Braised Chicory & Spec.
You should probably ignore the hype around restaurant Noma and Redzepi. That said and whether you choose to buy into the whole manufactured “best restaurant in the world” machine or not, this guide by ex-Noma alumni, polymath David Zilber, is totally canon now for major microbe magic. More about process than recipe, if you have any interest in any type of fermentation, it’s an honourable successor to the earlier works by Sandro Katz and won’t age or lose relevance in the way that the restaurant has. Go garums!
To my chagrin, I’ve yet to dive into this huge book to any great depth; I bought it partly because it’s big. Very big. Over 500 pages of closely typed recipes and photos which means that simply even on a “bang per buck” basis, this trumps pretty much any other one I own. The sheer breadth of tastes, flavours and textures on exhibit here, all from the chef’s Kurdish born Turkish food culture, makes it a real keeper. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. Like an archaeological dig, these ideas and inspiration will bear repeated unravelling and I’ll be unashamedly stealing from them, for years to come. First eye-catcher in the index? Hamsīlī Pīlav, Rice Pilaf With Anchovies. Finest kind.
What more do you need to bring flavour to your table than these three ingredients, asks Maltese born Nicole? And she’s right. Her food is all about umami and taste. Having been head chef at Yotam’s restaurant, Nopi, she was unexpectedly offered a job cooking at a Hackney primary school. She accepted. From there she went on to start Chefs In Schools — a charitable initiative — that’s working to show that school dinners can (and must) be cooked with love, good ingredients and by cooks who know how important this one, single meal is to hundreds of thousands of kids. There’s not room in this review for more detail or political polemic but you know why she and her work is so important. Favourites from here inc. Smoked Monkfish with Kimchi and Lambs Neck with Aubergine Nam Prik.
This pocket-sized little diamond of a book, covers what some may choose simply to see as a ‘niche’ or marginal food item; ignore those people, they are fools. Dim sum is the food of the gods — in bite size, wondrous, translucent packages. If any further proof were needed, such celestial packages have been found in the tomb of a Tang dynasty nobleman, dating from over 1300 years ago. Author Carolyn shows why this ‘simple’ dumpling remains such a beautiful food item. Eminently portable, ready anywhere, a song on the palate and on the eyes; just like her book. Try the Deep Fried Milk or Garlic Chive Packets.
Whilst they might not have been the very first street food team in London (it’s a little hard to recall that far back and the pickle-backs may also have had something to do with this memory lapse), they remain, for those of us lucky enough to have eaten there, simply one of the very best. Their subsequent move into bricks ‘n mortar places didn’t change their headline rush to ensure their food brought some of the best BBQ derivatives to the city on the Thames. Tom Adams went on to farm our (jointly) loved Mangalitza pigs, so you just know he’s on the side of the angels. Try some of their less well known ideas, like the Devil Dip Gravy or Duck Giblet Sausages. There are a few recipes that would suit non-meat eaters, but this is still pretty much full-pedal-to-the-metal meat-mayhem.
Chef Mistry is both cook and activist. An export from London, having gone through the whole culinary school then “fine dining” mincer, she now lives and cooks at her own place in the USA where her takes on Indian food have Preeti producing — in her own words — “lusty, uncomplicated and a little messy” food that really, REALLY belies this description. Her food is simply a reflection of her, colourful, bright, loud, uncompromising, opinionated, fun. It kind of reminds me of the dishes from Spuntino. That is, if that food had come from a queer, brown, loud-mouthed, small woman who takes no shizz from anyone. Buy the book, cook from it and mourn only that England’s loss was America’s gain.
Thom’s lyrical, poetic writing reflects his cooking style. Contemplative, calm, thoughtful, scholarly even in its scope, “Summer Lease” is possibly more menu driven than his first opus, but still retains a feeling that the words come to you via a friend, situated just behind you, as you cook, whispering why you should do something rather than merely guiding your knife strokes and pan flips. He eschews heat in the summer months, in favour of ageing and souring and salting. And as a fellow Kentish man and also a fine maker of garums, what’s not to like about this one?
A restaurant set not far from sea-front in Hong Kong, that takes Zen-master level yakitori skills and explains this skill in words and photos and drawings of exquisite detail, for anyone to follow; whether you’ll be able to easily master the complex breakdown of a whole chicken carcass anytime soon is debatable but the whole vibe here is of “wasting nothing, using everything” available from the “triple yellow chickens”, including legs, cartilage and tendons whilst producing some of the most mouth watering skewers of food in the whole damn world. If you don’t want to eat every single dish shown here, you should check out your pulse now — just in case — as you may actually already be dead. Fire up the Konro or stove-top grill and give your partner (or family or house-mates), some of the tastiest chicken ever.
We both love the food of Portugal — possibly even more than that from their close Iberian neighbour (sorry San Sebastián) — so I was tempted to put one of my favourite’s, “Lisboeta” by Nuno Mendes, into this top-10 list but this quite short alternative choice works better for how I now choose to cook and eat. Less self-consciously “food for the beautiful people” than ex-Chiltern Firehouse’ Mendes, it’s produced by a Lisbon restaurant collective who take the cornucopia of sea-food that’s been pulled from the Atlantic and then preserved in tins in this way there for centuries and, via a group of local cooking stars, offer great takes on how best to present them. If you didn’t love sardines before you start (and if you don’t, why are you even here?), by the end you’ll be ordering cases of the shiny things.