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Book Souk

A bazaar crowded with random offerings. William Gibson/Henrik Ibsen. Zafon, Murakami, Van Gogh. A table of well-thumbed Louisa May Alcott. Shiny Urban Fantasy and an aromatic clutter of cookbooks.

Just knowing this book exists is making me happy...

Historic Heston - Heston Blumenthal

...and the minute I have a few dollars to rub together, this is where they're going!


I am a huge Heston Blumenthal fan. And I became one without eating a bite of his food. A few years ago, The Fat Duck Cookbook introduced me to this wondrous artist whose medium is food. That book is a treasure trove, equal parts memory album, sketchbook, and cookbook. Will I ever cook anything from it? Probably not. I'll also never cook from Heston's Fantastical Feasts. Even the classic recipes that make up In Search of Total Perfection are less important to me than the stories leading up to each of them. As a body, Heston Blumenthal's books document the artistic process so eloquently that they ought to be required reading for artists and art lovers alike (regardless of media). And if you hear that he's giving a talk in your area, do yourself a favour and get a ticket!


If I ever do cook anything of Heston's (like all dribbling fans, I think of my idols by their first names), it will likely be his ultra-velvety mash, which shows up in Heston Blumenthal at Home. I contemplate attempting this recipe because I did indeed taste this potato-y marvel. Sigh.


It was a year ago October. I was considerably more solvent than I am today and was on holiday in London. I know it's improbable that I'll ever get to The Fat Duck, in Bray; but on my second day in London, I found myself just down the street from Dinner (the restaurant that is Historic Heston on its feet) and had one of those what-the-hell moments that often happen to me on holiday. I walked purposefully up to the podium and asked if there were any possibility of booking a table during my visit. It was near the end of lunch service on a drizzly weekday, and the very pleasant hostess asked if I would like a table now. The rest of my afternoon was a dream come true.


The room was lovely and I can't say enough good things about the staff. As for the food, well, it was everything I'd hoped. Here are some of my notes from that day: 

  • Hay smoked mackerel, graced with lemon salad and edible flowers. Smoked just to cure. With a glass of straw-coloured Reisling. Looks like a painting, tastes like the end of summer.
  • Spiced pigeon with roasted artichoke and ale sauce. Mmmm. Keep thinking that somewhere in this kitchen is someone whose job it is to bone pigeon breasts.Rioja (pretty cheap!) perfect with it.
  • Waiter suggested the mash. Damn amazing mash, creamy as polenta, tasting like essence of potato. Totally delicious with the ale sauce.
  • Tipsy cake HEAVENLY. A 5-petal yeastbread flower, soaked in a custard sauce and bruléed, served with a strip of spit-roasted pineapple. OMG!  How could anyone NOT order this?? I will dream of this over and over, I know!
  •  "Palate cleanser" of Earl Grey (!) chocolate ganache. The bergamot made the ganache surprisingly refreshing. And a caraway-flecked shortbread stick, a surprise that settled everything, like the candied seeds at the end of an Indian feast.


You will have noticed the note about the mash. Yes, it was that good. And when I got hold of Heston Blumenthal at Home, I was thrilled to find a recipe. And one day I will purchase a food mill, specifically for the purpose of trying it.


My true recipe quest, however, was the Tipsy Cake. Which is included in Historic Heston. But really, even without that, I'd want to buy the book. I can't wait to read it and let this brilliant artist explain how he mined history for inspiration.