The Good Table – Valentine Warner
Mitchell Beazley/Octopus – 2011
Photography: Jonathan Lovekin
The Good Table is a very entertaining cookbook with some outstanding recipes. The introduction is well written and clear. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it although I suspect that may, at least in part, be because Warner and I share an almost identical outlook on food and cooking. His food philosophy is quite extensive but Warner is such a good writer that it is easy to read; he stresses that knowledge of food makes it possible to eat a better quality of food and spend less money. His recipes generally follow seasonal and regional connections between ingredients.
Both the photography and styling of the food is excellent, sometimes the recipes chosen to have pictures are a little odd and overall the book would really benefit from having a few more images. The photos that are included are brilliantly matched to the recipes and all look incredibly tasty.
Warner remarks that he has an interest in rediscovering lost recipes as well as making wholly new innovations, this leads to an interesting blend of quite radical and also reassuringly familiar recipes. There are definitely some new and quirky recipes but none that are so outrageous as to put anyone off cooking them. The range of seafood used is both impressive and laudable – not just a token effort but a real push for lesser used ingredients (razor clams, cod roe, and pollock all feature). The vegetarian dishes are probably the most inventive and there are many that I couldn’t wait to try.
The balance between the different sections in The Good Table is handled well. The ‘Meat’ section is generally better than the ‘Birds’ part but both the ‘Fish & Shellfish’ and ‘Veg & Foraged Foods’ hold their own and there is a lovely little section called ‘Toast As A Vehicle’.
Having looked forward to it all the way through the book I was unfortunately disappointed by the puddings, there were not nearly as many as I had been hoping for and it is one of the weaker sections of the book. There were a couple of dishes that stood out but reading through almost none of them really grabbed my attention.
Most of the meals in The Good Table are not quick and simply thrown together – and thank goodness for that. There are enough fast suppers in here to give you inspiration if you need it (Baked Potatoes with Garlic and Cream, anyone?) but this is a real celebration of food. Warner notes that we currently seem to love televised cookery programmes, cookbooks and competitions but have lost the love (and skills) of actually cooking for ourselves. Quite a high number of the recipes are very long and go over several pages, which can get annoying when you are cooking and need to keep referring back to the ingredients at the start. On some of the recipes it is hard to tell where the notes stop and the instructions begin, however the ingredients are clearly listed and very nicely broken down into sections for different parts of the meal.
My favourite recipes were the Courgette Soup with Chard Bruschetta, the Heaven and Earth, and the Chorizo in Cider. I will keep my eyes peeled for more of Warner’s books, I really think that this cookbook would be a great addition to every kitchen shelf.
UPDATE: Three years on this is one of my most used cookbooks. Seriously good.