The Ethicurean Cookbook
By Jack Adair-Bevan, Paûla Zarate, and Matthew & Iain Pennington
Ebury Press, £25
This a cookery book for those who dream of the good life, a rural idyll of walled gardens, edible flowers, medlars and quince, not an evocation of cutting edge food on the mean streets of London or Birmingham. It’s a delight to read, with photos that mostly bring up visions of a childhood in the country that I for one certainly never had, but wouldn’t have minded.
Quite a bit of what we present in restaurants is only tangentially connected to the food on the plate. We offer a touch of something notionally more exciting, or at least we try to. A trip to the tastes of the Far East, the lifestyle of the aristocracy here or in France in the Edwardian era, the smart lifestyle of downtown New York or San Francisco. This book conjures up an English countryside where cider, cheese and beer are made locally, game roams the nearby woods and, most importantly, the garden provides all the inspiration needed for delightful and nourishing meals. Not real life for me, but a very tempting daydream.
Written by the four friends who set up the Ethicurean restaurant in a Victorian walled garden in the Mendip Hills, just outside Bristol, in 2010, the book features some tempting recipes. They range from the comparatively straightforward – mussels in cider with tarragon, deep-fried aubergine with rosehip syrup or globe artichokes with hollandaise sauce and sumac – to more complex, but still very approachable dishes such as venison, cider and quince stew with herbed butter dumplings.
The style is excellent, with simply titled dishes and a quirky, more thoughtful, recipe to follow. So, the rhubarb and custard turns out to be a terrine-like mousse with layers of vanilla custard and rhubarb jelly which sports a tablespoon of rhubarb compote on the side. Very nice it is too.
There are tips on making drinks, from a spiced ginger beer through an even better sounding double sloe gin and tonic using fresh raspberries so that it can count as one of your five a day – a great selling point that they forgot to mention – and then on to perennial favourites like Negroni.
Most interesting and most detailed was the recipe and method they use to make their own vermouth. Like many people, vermouth for me is an ingredient in cocktails rather than an aperitif choice. Like sherry, it’s a drink that suffers from the competition with chilled Champagne or white wine. This vermouth had a fascinating collection of botanicals, including angelica, cardamom, cinnamon, gentian, orange peel and wormwood. I doubt I will be making the recipe but I’d be very happy to try a glass of the authors’.
I didn’t initially warm to this book as I was unsure about all the flowers and bits of butterfly on some of the earlier photos and I am always nervous of a philosophy-driven recipe collection as opposed to one that has a purely gastronomic objective. However, this book managed to charm me past all that with great recipes, ideas and enthusiasm. I enjoyed it and am delighted to have it on my shelf.
By Shaun Hill, chef-proprietor, the Walnut tree, Llanddewi Skirrid
If you like this, you might like these:
● Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi
● English Food , Jane Grigson
● Food in England, Dorothy Hartley
* Article first published in Caterer and Hotelkeeper on 19 July 2013