Book Review: ‘Let’s Eat’ by Tom Parker Bowles

This is a great recipe book, but pretty far from traditional in terms of its content and layout, with chapter titles like ‘Comfort Food’ and ‘Slow and Low’. Tom claims to have based most of this cook book on a small leather journal he’s kept for years of thrice tested recipes, and being as well travelled as he is that makes for an interesting selection – British (Toad in the Hole), Thai, Mexican, Indian, Cantonese, etc.

Tom’s concept of a ‘recipe’ is very broad, so you’ll find everything here from simple ‘Baked Eggs’ (a great empty cupboard recipe he got from his mother) and ‘A Really Good Fish Recipe’ or a more complicated ‘Haddock Parker Bowls’, to recipes for a ‘Hot Toddy’ to ease colds and a ‘Bloody Mary’ for those who prefer a liquid diet.

Despite the fact that I don’t eat meat (and Tom has some amazing meat based dishes here – from grouse to oxtail) I found plenty that I intend to try out for myself: ‘Lemon Risotto’, ‘Hot Buttered Crab’, ‘Trifle’, ‘Shrimp Broth’ etc. I was also really impressed with the blender recipes for kids’s food, I will definitely be passing many of these along to friends!

This is more than a simple collection of recipes however, there are snippets of memoir, pop culture food references and pocket histories of recipes or ingredients as well. He isn’t shy about promoting suppliers he likes, or other cooks’ books either, so there’s some really useful references tucked into the text. The combination of all these things serves to make this a much more engaging recipe book than most, despite the fact that not every recipe is accompanied by a photograph (although most are).

I laughed out loud at Tom’s description of a ‘British’ bolognese, smiled when reading about the movie magic of meatballs, and shook my head when I heard about his week of living on eggs for the Mail on Sunday paper. Did you know you can test the age of an egg by placing it in a jug of water? (If it floats, bin it!) I didn’t before reading Tom’s book…

I was particularly interested in Tom’s commentary on the debate about the origin of ‘Sticky Toffee Pudding’, because coming from Cumbria I had only ever heard the Ulswater version of the story… There’s so many small gems of information in this book, that there’s something here to spark everyone’s interest, even a reluctant cook’s!

I’m off to the bookstore in a bit to order the following books for friends, thanks to Tom’s recommendations: ‘A Passion for Mushrooms’ by Antonio Carluccio and ‘Thai Food’ by David Thompson (who apparently once claimed “food is the only democratic institution in Thailand”) .

If I had to list the things that disappointed me about this book they would be:

1. How difficult it is the navigate these recipes (the reference section at the back saved me, or I’d have plugged this thing so full of bookmarks it would have looked like a revision guide).
2. Tom’s strange ideas concerning saturated fat – it would have been nice to see more ‘low fat’ workarounds in some of these recipes.
3. His love of chilli.

So, a fantastic, humorous recipe book full of tried and tested (by Tom) favourites from almost every continent on earth. Yes, there are ‘traditional’ recipes here, but also sone very innovative ones to. A good book for tested or new cooks alike, who don’t mind some topical commentary along the way.

This book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

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