What if the people who produce Portlandia decided to go to England and make it parody of pretentious foodie restaurants. First you would pick a name -- something that sounds made-up -- let's call it The Ethicurean. You would set your imaginary restaurant in a very British setting, like Downton Abbey. Not actually Downton Abbey, but a decaying country estate. Not in the actual estate but in the decaying walled garden. There would be an old orangerie, with missing glass, this would be the restaurant. The walled garden would be the farm-to-table variety. The head gardener, unlike his Victorian counterpart, would look like he ambled out of a J. Crew shoot. The vegetables would be washed, then dusted with organic dirt. The waitstaff would look exactly like they have walked off the runway in Milan or as one reviewer stated, "it's as if they're putting in a bit of work experience before getting engaged to Prince Harry or something." The restaurant would be out-of-the-way so it will be a difficult to get there which would encourage people from all over the world to make a pilgrimage. You would construct a menu so the gorgeous waitresses would say things like, "Tonight, we have lacto-fermented carrots." or maybe, "The bar has a lovely hay infused apple cider," or, "Do try our goat bacon." It would all seem so funny and witty, but....
The reviews are in. They keep coming in and The Ethicurean knocks it out of the park or the walled garden, as it were. The cookbook follows in this same exquisite vein. Every time you pick it up, you just can't seem to put it down. When you do set it aside, you think about it and soon you are leafing through the pages, again. The Ethicureans are a team consisting of brothers Matthew and Iain Pennington, Paûla Zarate and Jack Adain-Bevan. This merry band keeps the walled garden humming.
The cookbook leaves you humming with a strange sense of vertigo. You see a recipe and it seems familiar. You look at it again and it seems totally original. The brownies have elderflowers. The steamed pudding is stuffed with rabbit. There is goat bacon. Or this:
Fennel Seed and Ginger Hot Chocolate
100g dark chocolate with 70-73 per cent cocoa solids, grated plus a little extra to finish
1 tsp ground ginger
20g dark muscovado sugar
a pinch of salt
2 tsp fennel sugar
100ml double cream
Gently heat half the milk in a pan and add the grated chocolate, ginger, muscovado sugar, salt, and most of the fennel sugar (save a pinch for sprinkling). Stir until the chocolate has melted into the milk, then whisk in the remaining milk and the cream. Do not allow the mixture to boil but bring it to a comfortable drinking temperature. If you have a hand blender, substitute this for the whisk; either way, for a frothy head a good amount of whisking is needed.
Sprinkle with he remaining fennel sugar and a few shards of chocolate.
Needless to say, the cookbook is beautifully photographed by Jason Ingram and in keeping with that ethicureanism, it is printed on certified, forest managed paper. I love cookbooks and this one is magical. I love walled gardens, and The Barley Wood Walled Garden is both practical and ever so romantic. Far from being pretentious, ethicurean is a lovely word, like yo, get out your dictionary every now and then. In the end, it is always about the food and this food makes you long for a kitchen and a walled garden. The Ethicurean is my pick for Cookbook of the Year.