Book review: Cooking in Pubs by Simon Bonwick

09 February 2022 by
Book review: Cooking in Pubs by Simon Bonwick

You would think Simon Bonwick had enough on his plate after siring nine children, without also deciding to cook alone at gastropub the Crown at Burchett's Green near Maidenhead.

His first book, Cooking in Pubs, is a look at how he began cooking high-end classical French food in a local which he is now looking to hand over to a successor. He relates how he would start the week with an empty fridge, trekking off to meat and fish markets and pulling vegetables from the kitchen garden. The bemused locals, more used to scampi in a basket than Black Angus beef fillet with all the trimmings, took bets on how long he would last.

The book begins with praise from fellow chef David Everitt-Matthias, who describes Bonwick as having an appearance somewhere between a mad scientist and a tortured French artist, critic Andy Hayler and even the boss of Greene King, with whom he pleaded for "just six months more" on every visit. This is very much a chefs' book, where precision is sometimes put aside in favour of more creative instruction. The layperson will be flummoxed by orders to ‘season with Arabic spices', ‘serve with a potato of your choice', or to add ‘your own garam masala mix', but Bonwick insists that a chef should use their instincts.

His cooking, which he describes as a mix of "the Grand Palace cooking of Carême… which winds into the Elizabeth David era", encompasses recipes such as the classic Toulousian cassoulet to the simple Salcombe crab with apple and cashew and the more complex and catering-sized wood pigeon pâté, requiring 20 pigeon breasts. The puddings, however, are pure comfort food: treacle sponge, flapjack and berry cheesecake.

Bonwick's persistence and menus have lasted the distance, and now he can boast of winning three AA rosettes, a Michelin star in 2016, a special service award from Michelin for his family, three of which he has employed as staff, and, finally, someone else to do the washing-up.

Cooking in Pubs by Simon Bonwick (Away With Media £40)

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