Notorious, experimental chef Heston Blumenthal, renown for creations like snail porridge and bacon & egg ice-cream, has turned his hand to British classics, trying to create the most sublime versions - with a twist.
His brief for the series that inspired this book was to first discover what dishes constitute Britain's favourites (one for each of the eight episodes), then uncover the origin and essence of each meal, before creating a dish that is the synthesis of the original. The selected concoctions are: roast chicken and potatoes, pizza, bangers & mash, steak, spaghetti bolognese, fish & chips, Black Forest gateau and treacle tart & ice cream.
Those unfamiliar with Blumenthal's work could be forgiven for thinking that this makes for rather a slender cookbook, but that the recipes would be delicious and easy. They'd be right on only one count - I'm sure the dishes are divine.
Each creation takes around 40 pages (including lavish photos) to cover, encompassing the history of not only the dish but also many of its components (the introduction of potatoes to the Old World, controversy over the first country to create noodles), discovery of what elements are essential and what can be altered while still retaining a sense of the original (texture is an integral part of bolognese sauce, spaghetti cannot be replaced by fettuccine), and sourcing the best recipes and ingredients.
I'd love to have tried some of these dishes, but they're so labour intensive that it would have to be for something really special, and in some cases I can't think of an event special enough to warrant it - for example, the ice cream in the last dish required 1kg of dry ice, which is only available in quantities of 10kg or more.
I learned many interesting things while reading this book, not least of which was that Australia and the US lead the world (and certainly the UK) in beef labelling and quality. I think a trip to one of Blumenthal's restaurants may feature in my next trip to the UK, currently scheduled for September 2011. And I suspect my own cooking will remain relatively prosaic, but I enjoyed the food porn while it lasted - Alex