Book review – The Balthazar Cookbook

26 November 2010 by
Book review – The Balthazar Cookbook

The Balthazar CookbookBy Keith McNally, Riad Nasr & Lee HansonAbsolute Press, £25ISBN: 978-1-90665-033-9

With the recent announcement that Keith McNally plans to open a London version of his legendary New York brasserie Balthazar on the site of the former Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, this book could not be more timely.

The Balthazar Cookbook provides a glimpse behind the scenes of the restaurant that has been described as "the perfect evocation of a French brasserie in Manhattan" and an idea of what we may soon experience in London.

It tells the story of how McNally, a former actor from London, moved to New York in 1975 and began a new life working in restaurants. He opened several establishments of his own before eventually launching Balthazar in 1997.

From the outset Balthazar created a great buzz, with a quarter of million meals served during its first year. It is often described as the New York version of the 500-cover La Coupole, a comparison that McNally says is inexact because Balthazar only has 180 seats.

What Balthazar and La Coupole do have in common is that they are both brasseries that sell classic, simple French food. And this book is full of the popular dishes, devised by Balthazar's co-chefs, Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, which have graced the restaurant's menu for 13 years.

Although many of the recipes are familiar classics - such as moules à la marinère, coq au vin and crème brûlée - it is good to be reminded that this is the type of food customers like to eat again and again.

The food is hardly innovative, but it is good to get a glimpse of the kind of dishes that have helped turn Balthazar into one of New York's most iconic restaurants. Recipes that particularly appeal include the mustard-crusted salmon with lentils and sweet garlic jus; grilled quail with braised figs and port glaze; and the banana tarte tatin with banana sabayon, which is now a permanent fixture on the menu.

Excellent colour photography of the dishes illustrates so well why brasserie food is enduringly popular, while the black and white images provide a glimpse of the mood and ambience of the restaurant.

All the dishes can be easily replicated in a variety of establishments, from pubs to contract catering outlets. The book may even help you capture some of Balthazar's success for yourself.

If you like this, you'll love these:

Anthony Bourdain's "Les Halles" Cookbook: Classic Bistro Cooking

â- American Brasserie: 180 Simple, Robust Recipes Inspired by the Rustic Foods of France, Italy and America Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand

â- Bistros and Brasseries: Recipes and Reflections on Classic Cafe Cooking (Culinary Institute of America Dining) John W. Fischer, Lou Jones and Ben Fink

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