For the best part of two years, I’ve been art-directing and designing for the digital cookbooks start-up, 1000 Cookbooks. Having been on the inside looking around this incredible resource for so long, I rather vainly considered that my own top-ten list was possibly of interest, not least because it’s been formulating in my head for most of the time I’ve been working on this project. So, start with #10 and then take a look at the rest, none of which appear in any order of preference…
#1 The Eagle Cookbook
David Eyre & The Eagle Chefs
Whereas I hadn’t given thought to the order of the other books which appear in my Top 10, I always knew that my ‘number one’ would be this book. For those who don’t know, the Eagle is a gastropub in Farringdon. Today, the term gastropub incorporates a two-Michelin-star establishment at its apex and all kinds of good, bad and ugly below it, but nearly 25 years ago, when David Eyre and Mike Belben first opened the saloon doors of their east London boozer, the term was freshly coined to recognise something new and different. To this day, the Eagle remains one of the best gastropubs around – the Godfather of the gastropub scene.
A book of recipes was first published in 2001 under the title Big Flavours and Rough Edges. It was The Times‘ Jonathan Meades who coined that phrase and I doubt anyone has summed up the food of the Eagle more succinctly since. An enlarged edition was published as The Eagle Cookbook in 2009. The book is really a best-of collection of the recipes of many of the chefs who have worked at the Eagle over the years: illustrious names such as Sam & Sam Clark, Margot Henderson, Tom Norrington-Davies, Trish Hilferty and Harry Lester, and incumbent head chef, Ed Mottershaw. Eyre himself once described the food of the Eagle as ‘on holiday all around the Mediterranean’, which gives you a good idea of the kind of dishes you’ll find: soups from Portugal, salads from Greece and Turkey, a meal on toast from Catalonia, an eggs dish from Andalucia and pasta and risottos galore.
It was founding and current proprietor Mike Belben himself who told me to try the spaghetti with roasted fennel, lemon and chilli and it’s arguably the most pleasure I’ve ever managed to derive from cooking and eating pasta. It’s typical of so many recipes in this collection. It’s a book which you truly could cook from cover to cover. These are recipes which have been enjoyed by hundreds, probably thousands of punters over many years. You can sense the happiness of so very many people.
It’s the cookbook I love above all others because it’s the food I most want to cook and eat and which makes me most happy.