COOKING THE BOOKS: UTTER NUTTER by Andrew Nutter Photographs by Huw Williams Bantam Press, pounds 16.99

PUTTING RECIPES TO THE TEST WITH RICHARD EHRLICH

Andrew Nutter is a chef who appears on TV, and the cover of his book (along with the title) conveys a wild and wacky impression. But Utter Nutter carries a description of him by Anton Edelmann, the author's ex- boss at the Savoy, as "a genius at work"; this should suggest that there's more here than good hair and a winning smile. To crack this particular nut I conscripted freelance journalist Joan Stephens, of Burton Overy in Leicestershire, as my guinea pig.

DESIGN

"A slim hardback which lies reasonably flat wherever you open it. Varied typefaces add interest and clarity, and a list of recipes is provided at the start of each section." But the index has serious flaws: "Triple Lemon Soles is listed under Triple but not Lemon or Sole, and Crisp Almond Cigars under C for Crisp but not A for Almond."

Joan was happier about the layout, which puts many recipes on a single page - "so no need to turn over with sticky fingers halfway through a dish. The number of servings is specified beneath each title, and the cooking-method is presented in numbered stages, making the recipes easy to follow."

PRACTICALITY

The cover bumf describes Nutter's food as "fast, fun and inexpensive". Joan agreed with the first two adjectives, but had doubts about the third: "Lobster, duck breast and lemon sole don't come cheap, and Chinese wonton skins, spring roll pastry, couscous and black bacon are not items you are likely to have around your kitchen just anyway." But "most ingredients are readily available from large supermarkets," she acknowledged, "and only a few are in the really exotic bracket."

A second reservation concerned Nutter's love of outrageous presentation. "His tower of Futuristic Fish and Chips is marvellous to behold - but probably unappetisingly tepid by the time it reaches your fork!" The tower in question is made from chips stacked at right angles. Joan expresses her doubts too mildly in my view.

THE RECIPES

On first inspection, Joan suspected that Nutter was "different just for the sake of being different". But he won her over, she says: "The recipes are clear, concise but precise - and they do work." And she appreciated the "good mix of basics and more exotic dishes for when you are entertaining to impress." Joan also liked the "nice, chatty hints along the way," but warned that the recipes are "geared to cooks with some experience".

Of the six dishes she cooked, Joan singled out the Mushroom Soup as one of the best. She also enjoyed the Triple Lemon Soles, poached and served with lemon grass, which was "a revelation".

Puddings are a favourite of Joan's, and this chapter was "a delight. I'd especially recommend the Peach and Almond Tart and the Custard Cream Ice-Cream. On the other hand, Hot Chocolate Pizza with Strawberry Milkshake Sauce was not a success with my brood, and the Nutter variation on Banoffee Pie lost votes by comparison with the standard version."

THE PHOTOGRAPHS

"The dishes are beautifully illustrated. The photographs give you an ideal end result to aim for," said Joan, adding that "presentation is clearly one of Nutter's strongest points."

VALUE FOR MONEY

Joan liked Utter Nutter but called it "a gifty book rather than a practical book - I'd buy it as a present rather than for my own use. At pounds 16.99 it's not cheap, and you don't get that many recipes. On the other hand, the ones you get are good. It's a useful, colourful book for someone who wants something that's not just run-of-the-mill."

MARKS: SEVEN OUT OF TEN

! If you'd like to be one of Richard Ehrlich's Cooking the Books guinea pigs, write to him at the IoS Review, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL

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