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Decent reference guide but irritating style and too heavy on desserts
on 23 May 2009
I bought this book a couple of years ago, mainly as a result of reading the many glowing reviews on Amazon! While I think it is a decent cookbook and worth having as a reference guide for classic recipes, there aren't that many of her own recipes that I've been tempted to try, other than the tarts section which is excellent - it's certainly worth looking at her 'Art of the Tart'.
My main objection is her writing style, which I find very irritating - story after story of her rebellions against the institutional canteen food of her school and Cambridge college and how her children have done the same and won competitions, written books and so on get a little wearing. As other reviewers have pointed out, a lot of the book's hefty content is made up of prose rather than recipes. I don't mind this in Nigel Slater's books because I find his style appealing, so whether you like this depends on whether you like her style and tone, which often tends towards the magesterial - for example she launches a tirade against people who make hummus with tinned chickpeas, saying that 'any moron can make hummus' and hummus made with soaked and boiled chickpeas is incomparable. So I dutifully soaked chickpeas overnight and boiled them for a couple of hours to make something which normally takes five minutes - I couldn't taste any difference, it just took a damn sight longer! In this respect she is a little uncompromising, always exhorting the reader to make recipes the 'proper' way rather than the practical, quick or healthy way, e.g. only full fat milk in a bechamel, only soaked and boiled pulses rather than tinned, only a particular cut of meat or type of fish for a recipe, and she doesn't encourage experimentation in the way that Nigel Slater or Jamie Oliver do.
My other gripe about the book is that it is very heavy on desserts. Whereas a normal cookbook has a dessert section, this book has cakes and puddings in all of the chapters. I would estimate that a quarter to a third of the recipes are sweet. I don't make desserts that much, so this is wasted on me.
I would think this book would be good for someone learning to cook as the instructions are precise and quantities exact, but I don't find it particularly interesting or inspiring, so I use it as an occasional reference guide rather than a book I look at frequently.