I don’t often review books on this blog. Although I may enjoy a cook book, I rarely feel the need to jump up and tell people about it; often someone else has done it already, better. What someone else has not done already however, is write a more impressive book about British food than Andrew Webb has done with Food Britannia.
I should say right off that Andrew Webb is a friend of mine. You can therefore choose to believe that what I write here is my true opinion, or not. Let me say to you this however: I spend a great deal of time and energy writing in this space; I take a lot of pride in maintaining the integrity of it and I won’t ever tell you about something unless I feel it is of value. Caveat ends.
Food Britannia is like an encyclopaedia of British food (Encyclopaedia of Food Brittanica?) but with less of the scholarly padding and a lot more warmth and fun. I first met Andrew on the journey that sparked the idea for the book – it was called The Big British Food Map, a commission for Channel 4 which took him 11,500 miles around the country looking for the best grub going. At the end of the journey he found he couldn’t stop; he needed to fill in the gaps, find the producers undiscovered, from one-man-bands to well known brands.
This diversity in the book pleases me. I’m learning of new products to seek out and try; top of this list comes the ‘Sloe Tavy’ (above), an aged goat’s milk cheese whose rind is washed in Plymouth Sloe Gin. Cheese? Goood. Sloe gin? Goood. There are now many pink stickies peeking from the top of pages marked for my later attention – lardy cake; Somerset cider brandy; the Manchester sausage. There’s a list of suppliers in the back.
Among the new I relished the familiar: Marmite, Irn-Bru and my personal favourite, the WHAM bar. Anyone who grew up in the UK in the 1980’s remembers this tooth-extracting, space-dust studded chew bar. I got through my local newsagent’s stock with gusto and the bars in turn steadily made their way through my milk teeth.
There’s a London section too, which of course pleases me greatly. Franco Manca pizza; pie and mash with liquor; Sipsmith; The Ginger Pig and Heinz baked beans. Did you know Heinz beans grew up in Peckham? Me neither. I’m pleased to see jerk getting a mention too, not least because it’s a quote from yours truly. My favourite jerk joint at the time was Smokey Jerkey in New Cross. It’s now Caribbean Spice Jerk Centre but hey, times they change.
Food Britannia is the kind of book you dip in and out of; a coffee table book that does more than just look good. It could easily be used as a guide should you nip off on a weekend away somewhere; a handbook for the food loving adventurer. The thing that strikes me most about the book is how thoroughly well researched it is. With such a volume of entries it would be easy to skim over them but that’s just not Andrew’s style, and it shows. It’s more than a reference work, it’s a fun and engaging story of the people making quality food in this country. Considering the amount of total shit that’s put out, we should thank Andrew Webb for picking out the wood from the trees.
Food Britannia is available to buy on Amazon and at real-life book shops too.