I was reading Restaurant Magazine the other day and came across an article on cookbooks. The publishers are churning them out in time for Christmas and quite frankly, I'm a teeny bit bored of them. How many times do I have to read 'My grandmother's secret recipe...'? I'm sure she's a wonderful cook but isn't everyone's grandmother?
What it does point out is you need a USP. Correct. They're all the same. The current fashion is simple subjects, redefined. But how many more opinions on fish/meat/baking etc can there be?
Cookbooks these days fall into three camps:
• Romantic, rustic and full of background
• Egotistical chefs' masturbation manuals
• Design-led coffee table lifestyle ornaments.
Great of course that the Watersones book of 2012 was Polpo, but sad really that it won because of the spine design, praising its tactility and reliance to the threat of digital downloads. None of the judges actually mentioned the recipes inside.
I think what we need is something different, something that's not been done before. When was the last time you bought a cookbook and actually really used it?
The books listed in this article were Nathan Outlaw (another book about fish), The Square, Faviken (described as a coffee book table - says it all. It looks beautiful though), Space Trip and J Sheekey. J Sheekey won't win any awards for originality - it's a classic fish restaurant that's put out a cookbook about classic fish cooking. But it reminded me, and that's what a restaurant cookbook's partly about. That's why I decided to go there yesterday.
I had a great time and I think one of the reasons was is that it's been around for such a long time, no-one's trying to be cool or innovative. It's old-school, traditional and it's been there for yonks. And looking around, it's full of first dates and senior citizens. There was a ridiculously posh table nearby which we observed with glee as they got more sloshed.
Things I liked:
- The oysters and their gorgeous, tangy shallot vinegar (£14.25 for 6). I could eat hundreds of them but I won't because then they wouldn't be special (and I'm not a millionaire). There was some nice rye bread served with it. I wasn't really sure when I was supposed to eat it so I used it as a kind of palate cleanser.
- Their shrimp and scallop burger. Ordered purely for how-does-that-work factor. It was delicious and it was a bit different. Couldn't finish it because it was quite rich. But I would eat that again.
- They overheard it was my friend's birthday and piped 'happy birthday' on her dessert plate. It was a nice touch.
- The Spotted Dick (snigger). It was great comfort food. I'm a big fan of steamed puddings. Can someone bring them back, please?
- When they said that they hoped to see me for my next birthday, I felt like they really meant it (it's nice to feel that they're not just going through the motions).
- Gravlax. It's cured salmon, but it was great nonetheless.
|Scallop & Shrimp Burger|
Things I didn't like:
- Initial shambles at reception. They've been doing this for years - haven't they got a better system?
- Squid was chewy and it didn't taste of much except the charred pepper (a pet hate of mine) so I had to slather on quite a lot of the sauce. I know squid is often chewy, but I expected better from a fish restaurant.
- The iced berries. I mean, it was nice, and the chocolate sauce was lovely, but it reminded me of the frozen mixed berries my mum used to get from Iceland to put into a crumble. Not a dessert.
- As the room filled up (and we drank more wine), the room got warmer, but initially, the room was chilly.
28-35 St Martin's Court London WC2N 4AL
020 7240 2565