Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts)
By Russell Norman
Bloomsbury Publishing, £25
Russell Norman's small chain of London restaurants are a phenomenon. They serve good ingredients in spartan surroundings but with real panache. I eat in Polpo and Spuntino reasonably regularly, as I spend Mondays in London, so I'm familiar with the repertoire of dishes. My favourites are whatever pizzette are on offer. These are delicious little pizzas with salty and spicy toppings, and I was eager to try the recipes for them in the book.
Interestingly, I think that the ideas, recipes and presentations will be a success with the domestic market even more than restaurants and gastropubs, the places you might assume would have most to learn or gain from the unelaborate presentations and punchy, honest flavours. Few recipes have more than a dozen ingredients or are expensive to make and most are dishes you would fancy eating. The pictures show the food as it will turn out if you follow the instructions, an obvious but strangely rare outcome.
Some of the dishes are familiar, such as crostini, panzanella, Piedmontese peppers and tiramisu. A few are variants on classic dishes, such as a pigeon saltimbocca with wet polenta or lamb and pistachio polpette - meatballs to you and me.
And the pizzette? The stracchino, potato and rosemary pizzetta looked rather like a wild nettle and potato version I ate recently and the asparagus, Talleggio and speck will be the next topping I try. Both worked out well, as did the spinach, soft egg and Parmesan version that stays on Polpo's menu permanently. All are dishes which are as fine as you could hope for.
The subtitle of this book is A Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts) so there are tips on where to eat and what to eat in Venice as well as photos of cafés, bars and street markets well away from the usual well trodden spots.
There are also drinks, including the Negroni - Venice's second most famous cocktail after the over-rated peach and Prosecco job, the Bellini - which is made from equal parts gin, campari and sweet vermouth. The proportions for both, and a few others, are found in a comforting last chapter.
By Shaun Hill, chef-proprietor, the Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid
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