Friday, 26 February 2010


Last night, at about 7.30pm, I was just up-ending a stale, but cold, bottle of white wine into one of our least broken glasses, when the doorbell rang.

"Ding dong". Or rather "BEEERRRRRRRRIIINGNGNGNGNGNGNGNGNGNGNGNGNGN!!!!!" is more like it. We have the loudest and most unnerving doorbell in North London, that just goes right through you. You know - the sort that can be heard in outerspace.

Anyway, who should be at the door but Dominic Lake, he of Canteen fame. It's that restaurant you might have seen that seems to be, alongside Leon, taking over the world. There's one in Spitalfields, one in Baker Street, one on the ground floor of the Royal Festival Hall. I think there are others, too, but I'm too lazy to look them up.

This doesn't happen to me very often, restaurateurs popping by at dinner time. Henry sometimes comes round when he's been invited and we've had 6 months to plan what to give him for dinner. But off the cuff visits are more rare.

Dom hadn't come round for dinner, (although I stuffed him full of Hugh's Mango and Steak salad thing and some salted caramel ice cream anyway), he had come round to drop off the new Canteen cookbook, called Great British Food. Giles has written the foreword and Dom was bringing a book round to say thank you.

It's a fantastic book. More than anything else, it's such a lovely thing to HAVE. It's a great size, not quite A4 and not quite A5, not dauntingly long and, with a bit of pressure, will sit open flat on your worktop.

I don't think, funnily enough, that some chefs realise the importance of this when it comes to producing their cookbooks. Or maybe THEY do, it's the publishers and the designers - all eating nothing, or M&S ready-cook meals only - who produce impractical cookbooks, which are great to look at and useless to use.

Nigel Slater, for example, is brilliant but his books, practically-speaking, are a disaster. Real Fast Food is like a paperpack novel, which you have to keep picking up and opening and muttering "two hundred grams" to yourself, before putting it back down. Real Cooking is better, because it's a short-ish book that you can lie flat on a surface. But Tender is just a nightmare. There are so many wonderful things in there that I just don't cook because the book is about 500 pages long, weighs a ton and you can't keep it open, not even on a cookbook stand.

Now, Nigella's got it sorted. How To Eat is a bit unwieldy - again, with the not-staying-open problem, unless you're really brutal with it and mercilessly break the spine, but her others are great. My Nigella Bites, Nigella's Christmas and Nigella Express are all food-spattered and dog-eared from use. And why? Because they LIE FLAT on my counter tops and they've got lots of pictures.

It's so simple.

The Canteen book is like that. Its brown-paper, Wartime Chic design is just so lovely and it does that stiff upper lip, Yay-We're-British! thing nicely without being cloying or too Cath Kidston.

I'm going to be making potted duck and Lancashire Hot Pot. And that's just FOR STARTERS. There's also a great section at the back for all those basics that you often have to hunt through other recipe books to find - Hollandaise, Mayonnaise, Onion Gravy, all that.

Pip pip. Hurrah for us!


  1. I wish cool people come to my door and give me cookbooks! :D

  2. I love White Trash Cooking by Ernest Matthew Mickler - I've never cooked anything other than fried chicken from it but it's spiral bound and, if the recipes weren't quite so terrifying, would sit perfectly on the worktop.

  3. I also wish cool people would arrive at my door with lovely cook books.... but more to the point, totally agree on the cook book flat on the work top situation. Nigel Slater is a nightmare... esp Tender book . Nigella however is splattered and torn to shreds. The way it should be....
    By the way.. just received AD HOC today.. loving it.

  4. No way!! That's great that you got Ad Hoc. I really like Thomas Keller, I think he's a nice man and his advice on how to be a better cook is, I think, exceptional. Kind, sensitive and empathetic, while also being the best, most fuck-off chef in the world. Great guy.