Book review: Black Axe Mangal by Lee Tiernan

07 November 2019 by
Book review: Black Axe Mangal by Lee Tiernan

It's tempting to pigeonhole Lee Tiernan, chef and proprietor of cult north London restaurant Black Axe Mangal, as some sort of rock 'n' roll chef. His pizza oven is emblazoned with the faces of rock group Kiss, he blasts a soundtrack of heavy metal into the dining room (a converted kebab shop), and the flavours of dishes like his signature squid ink flatbread with smoked cod's roe are turned up to 11.

But behind the raucousness is a considered, thoughtful and meticulous cook. On the subject of bread, which he says is the "anchor" of his cuisine, he quotes food writer Richard Olney and explains that his seven-page recipe for flatbread was perfected with the help of Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco.

Another influence on Tiernan's cooking is Fergus Henderson, for whom Tiernan worked for more than a decade, including a stint as head chef of St John Bread and Wine. Dishes such as shrimp-encrusted pig's tails with pickled chicory; braised hare, chocolate and pig's blood with mash; and oxtail, bone marrow and anchovy wouldn't look out of place on a St John menu (Tiernan has also included the famous St John rarebit recipe in the book). But as Henderson notes in the introduction, "Lee has borrowed my bone marrow, my cod's roe, my pig's blood, but they are not what shape him".

The introduction is full of stories from Tiernan's colourful past. As a child he took fussy eating to such extremes, often hiding unwanted meals under a loose floorboard, that his mother consulted a doctor. Black Axe Mangal's origins as a pop-up in ‘a grimy, graffiti-smeared Copenhagen nightclub', where Tiernan cooked thousands of kebabs in a ‘ramshackle shed' also makes for entertaining reading.

The seasoning of salty language and peppering of softcore glamour (older readers may be reminded of Rude Food from the 1970s) may be off-putting to some, but the instructions on grilling, smoking and baking, along with the story behind his success, provide an insight into one of the UK's most exciting and original chefs and make Black Axe Mangal an essential purchase.

Black Axe Mangal by Lee Tiernan (Phaidon, £24.95)

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