Anton Edelmann's `The Savoy Cookbook' is a celebrity restaurant coffee table book which must be judged on merits relevant to its type rather than being judged by the same criteria as a regional cookbook or a social group fundraising cookbook or a teaching cookbook or an `everything you will ever need cookbook, or even a celebrity chef cookbook like those from Jeremiah Tower or Paul Bertolli, for example.
The criteria I deem distinctive of the `celebrity restaurant showbook' are:
Very effective pictures of food, building, and `cooks at work'.
A good story of the origins of the restaurant, its cuisine, and it's successes.
Interesting recipes, easily understandable by the amateur cook, in principle reproducible by same. At least some recipes should be practical for the home cook while retaining the `wow' factor the dish achieves in its very posh venue.
Facts which set this venue apart from all similar restaurants.
Success with these four criteria will get you four stars. To get five stars like `The French Laundry Cookbook' or `The Zuni Café Cookbook' requires that the author(s) transcend these criteria and give us something special in either great `do at home' recipes or even greater insights into the nature of great professional cooking.
There is also a criterion that is difficult to state clearly. This may be characterized as a `visceral' reaction to the whole package. Satisfying this criteria means that you come away from the book satisfied with a genuine interest in visiting this venue. The things that contribute to this feeling are often a modest, respectful attitude toward the reader and the restaurant's accomplishments and the effectiveness with which the experience at the venue is conveyed through words and pictures. It is difficult to get past three stars without this feeling.
In spite of some weaknesses in the more easily quantifiable criteria, this book hits the visceral target. I really wanted to stay at the Savoy Hotel in London, eat its food, and order room service there at 2 AM after a night at the theatre. Part of what promotes this interest is the unusual venue. The Savoy is not a single restaurant. Rather it is a very large group of kitchens with a very large staff serving three different restaurants, a very large banquet hall, many private dining rooms, and 24 hour a day room service to a large hotel. Another part of the interest is that the very first Maitre Chef des Cuisine at the Savoy was Auguste Escoffier, the legendary chef and codifier of modern French restaurant practice and the inventor of many famous dishes.
The other side of the coin is that the book simply does not succeed on some of the easy stuff. I give the book high marks for modestly telling an interesting story of the hotel and its food venues. I also give the book passing grades on its food photography and styling. The largely black and white photographs are a waste of space. Much is said about the art deco design of the hotel, with not one single photograph to demonstrate this. Much is said about the décor of some famous private rooms. Not one photograph of said private rooms. What photographs there are have no captions. They are eye candy with artificial sweetener.
The recipes are very well written, with one technical and one practical weakness. The technical weakness is in the excellent practice of giving all measurements in both metric and English units. The problem is that many of the conversions from one unit to the other are grossly inaccurate. Some conversions are off by almost 20%, where, for example one cup (245 milliliters on my Corning measuring cup) is translated into 200 milliliters. Almost all weight and volume measurements are off by 5 to 15 percent. The practical weakness is in the use of hard to find ingredients such as quail eggs and French melons. I really don't hold this against the book too much, as I believe that truly doable recipes is not what these books are all about.
I did pay special attention to the preparations I always use to judge a cookbook. Applicable recipes for this book were the omelet, the crepe, brioche, pasta dish, and chicken stock. In all cases, the level of detail is simply not suitable for instruction to an amateur. The book essentially assumes you already know how to make these things, especially the omelet. The brioche recipe probably works well in the hands of a professional chef, but it breaks several rules given by people who are truly teaching their readers how to make brioche. The crepe recipe is also much more suitable to a professional kitchen than the home kitchen as it skips some traditional steps and gives no hints about forgiving a bad first crepe.
I do think there are recipes here that a skilled amateur can successfully reproduce for entertaining. There are virtually no dishes here aside from a few of the breakfast dishes that would be at home on the family dining table.
If you are a collector of restaurant cookbooks, this is better than average, but not as good as the best. For those people I give it four stars. My official rating must be only three stars, though, since I wish to warn people that while this book contains recipes for exceptional dishes, these dishes are not meant for your daily meal, or even the Saturday night or Sunday afternoon family meal. And, the book gives little insight into professional cooking. In my heart it gets four stars. My head gives it only three.