Eating Out: Cooking the books

PUTTING RECIPES TO THE TEST WITH RICHARD EHRLICH; THE IVY THE RESTAURANT AND ITS RECIPES by A A Gill Photographs by Harriet Logan and Henry Bourne Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 25
Click to follow
Tables At the Ivy, London WC2, are notoriously difficult to come by. And while diners and lunchers who know the place - a very good restaurant - may welcome this sleek book, is it a good buy for the un- fortunate majority who have never eaten there?

Cooking Guinea Pig Rupert Kirby set out to answer that question. Rupert loves the restaurant, so cooking the book over a busy weekend was a pleasure for him. As a professional caterer, with his own London-based company called Panini Etc, he could handle the culinary challenge. And his reaction to the book was enthusiastic, even if he had reservations.

The reservations should especially be noted by readers who are looking for a cookbook rather than a souvenir. Rupert's high marks reflect his culinary expertise, and his love of the restaurant.


Rupert liked the feel of the book and had no complaints about page layout or the presentation of recipes. He did, however, have two problems. One was that some of the recipes are printed over a photograph (a popular gimmick in cookbooks at the moment). The other problem was the presen-tation of the long essay, describing a day at the restaurant, which forms the non-recipe portion of the book. The essay appears in chunks in between the recipe chapters, the reader is directed to the page with the next chunk with arrows. "I would have liked it better at the front. Jumping around is confusing and difficult." On the other hand, he thought the chronicle itself was excellent.


The cooking ranges from the very simple (Fish and Chips) to the very complicated. While Rupert handled it with ease, he warns that the com-plicated dishes would be difficult for beginners - "especially in the Roasts, Grills and Entrees section". Thai Spiced Chicken and Coconut Soup, for example, had "too many stages and too much prepping for most cooks. I had to think ahead all the time, and there is no guidance about planning in the recipes." And many recipes call for home-made stocks (often in huge quantities) without which the dishes cannot be cooked satisfactorily.

Rupert also complained that all the recipes were given in quantities to serve eight. "This makes it clear that it's a dinner party book, an entertaining book, and with such complicated dishes this would be impractical for many cooks."


Rupert had been confused when he first heard about the book: "I couldn't understand why people would want to cook this food at home when they could have it at the restaurant, where it's cooked so well, and with the ambience which is so much a part of it." His doubts spill over into the simpler dishes. "If you're making Caesar Salad, do you really need to learn how to do it from the Ivy?" He wasn't sure, and yet also found that some of the cooking lacked the "aspirational" element that he often values in cookbooks.

But the recipes that Rupert cooked worked well. Fillet of Haddock with Crab Tabbouleh was wonderful, a fantastic assembly of flavours; though time-consuming in the same way that Thai Spiced Chicken and Coconut Soup was. A simple dessert of Scandinavian Iced Berries with Hot White Chocolate Sauce was another triumph, especially as he had made it before without the benefit of the Ivy's secret (white chocolate buttons). The only real failure came with Corned Beef Hash with Fried Eggs. The hash fell to bits, Rupert thought, because a domestic pan doesn't get as hot as those used in industrial kitchens.


Rupert called them "stunning - artistic and lovely". But he did have one complaint: "The picture at the beginning of the Roasts, Grills and Entrees section is revolting - out of keeping with the rest of the book." When I looked at the page in question I saw what he was talking about: it's a whole rabbit, uncooked. A few pages later there's a whole calves liver, also uncooked. Vegetarians, you have been warned.


Even though he "adored the book as a whole", calling it "a great documentation of a classic restaurant", Rupert was doubtful about its value for money. "As a coffee-table book or a souvenir of the restaurant, yes. But not as a recipe book."

For what it's worth, I agree. The photography is good, and sometimes interestingly used, but there's an air of High Chic in the whole enterprise which gets tiring after a while. And I disagree with Rupert about the text. It struck me as nearly unreadable - verbose, pompous, over-written. Lavish Luvvie praise for the bosses contrasts with nasty sneers for underlings: the chef "can make a commis of any turnip-headed lout with two hands", we are told. Simple recipes can be had elsewhere, complicated dishes are better suited to a professional kitchen. And lack of technical detail makes the complicated recipes useless for inexperienced cooks.

Which leaves the souvenir angle. If that appeals to you, whip out your credit card. If it doesn't, save the card for lunch at the Ivy. And book your table well in advance.

MARKS (out of 10): 7

Last week's Cooking the Books round-up attributed the wrong publisher to Rozanne Gold's 'Recipes 1-2-3' which is published by Grub Street