Top critical review
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Let down by design
on 1 February 2013
A strange, intriguing title for a book that sets out to intrigue and enchant, showcasing many dishes from the Middle East, North Africa and Mediterranean. Hopefully you will fall under the food's spell and get cooking for yourself.
Firstly, this is not a book for those with tired, middle-aged eyes (or in other words those with not so-perfect sight). The choice of font and styling makes this book hard to read from a comfortable distance. This is a shame as it creates a barrier to leisurely browsing and can lead to a greater risk of `food damage' and staining as you may be constantly lifting it up and putting it down whilst cooking. A small but important thing. Greater thought to the layout and a few more pages might have made a world of difference - particularly as we are not talking about a cheap paperback book.
Each chapter focusses on a few ingredients, giving a brief overview of their origins, history and use before then providing many recipes and accompanying rich photography for you to try at your leisure. It is an interesting combination of learning and cooking that might not appeal to everybody. If you are a `find a recipe and make it' sort of person it might not be your cup of tea but if you value a more immersive experience then you will be rewarded - just as long as you can comfortably read the text!
The recipes are split by key ingredient type rather than by country of origin which makes sense, however the lack of a really useful table of contents means that the book is possibly not as accessible and as useful for everyday cooking as it should be. At the back there is a fairly comprehensive index but that is not the point. An index and a table of contents might look similar but they do two separate tasks. If you thought the text was small and hard to read in the main part of the book wait until you see the index - it can put a telephone directory or a contract on the back of a paper order form to shame.
When it comes to the recipes themselves there is a pleasing selection that are well written and quite self-explanatory, so it is very frustrating that the overall layout of the book appears to infuriate and annoy. If this reviewer had picked up this book unknown in a book store there is a good chance it would have been put straight back again. Reading through it was arduous. If you can feel claustrophobic reading a book, so to speak, don't pick this one up. The more this reviewer thinks about the book's physical attributes the more annoying it becomes. The recipes are diverse and interesting, the photography engaging and the overall concept is a good one. It is just the damn layout. More physical space, larger fonts and a little thought to the use of colour would really transform this book. As it is, it feels a hassle to spend time with this book so is it more likely to remain on the shelf in favour of more accessible ones...?
So this would have been a four or possibly five YUM book if the design was more, err, accommodating and accessible. As it stands unless you have the eyesight of Superman and the patience of Job it is debatable that you would want to make this book a frequent companion to your reading chair and your kitchen. That is a shame. There are many books out there with poor content and great design, proving that you can't make a great book great only by design, but you can make a great book suffer with not much thought.