Raving not ranting

AA Gill has written a new book about another culinary institution in London. Despite photos of ox tongues, Matthew Valentine thinks it lacks bite

In the days before picture by-lines on restaurant review columns, AA Gill’s day job must have been much easier, not to mention less dangerous. But Gill’s face tops each of the character assassinations printed in his Sunday Times column.

Nobody insults celebrity chefs, known to throw out diners for ordering well-done steaks, lightly. It must be safe to assume that some of Gill’s targets resent being made a national laughing stock over breakfast. Indeed, one restaurateur famously ejected Gill from his establishment, despite Gill’s dinner companion being Joan Collins.

Gill’s spleen-venting is not reserved for restaurants. In recent months he has also offended Germany and Cheshire (“It’s easy to mock Cheshire, but then that’s hardly a reason not to…Cheshire thumbs its nose job at mockery”.). For a joke against his travel companion, motoring journalist and celebrity chauvinist Jeremy Clarkson, Gill told the entire population of Cheshire that Clarkson was gay. If I were Gill, I’d use somebody else’s picture on my columns (perhaps Clarkson’s) and let them take their own chances.

Luckily for restaurateurs Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, Gill likes their restaurant, Le Caprice. Like The Ivy (the subject of a previous book by Gill) Le Caprice has been fashionable for long enough to be acceptable to critics, who are otherwise employed to notice what is wrong with restaurants.

Gill’s latest book, Le Caprice, is a celebration rather than a critique. Designed by Unlimited, with photographs by Henry Bourne, the book manages to evoke the feeling of a good Chablis-soaked lunch.

It includes recipes, plus sumptuous shots of the dishes cooked by Le Caprice’s chefs.

Gill’s writing dovetails neatly with the design and photography. He explores the importance of atmosphere in creating a good restaurant. He raves in favour of meat (“Cooking without meat is Macbeth without murder”). Making a photograph of Cold Ox Tongue look appetising is a neat trick, which Bourne pulls off. It is noticeable, though, that the best way of making tripe look good is to photograph it in a bag.

Unlike meat, game and fish, Gill gives short thrift to vegetables. He doesn’t write about them; he just includes some recipes. “Every year a new crop of strange-shaped things arrives in supermarkets. The only people who can understand them, let alone peel them, are those who devote their professional time to cooking,” he adds.

The book is entertaining too, but for those expecting some well-aimed barbs against an unsuspecting third party it is slightly disappointing. You long for Gill to be nasty to someone. In the credits at the front of the book Gill shares authorship with Corbin and King, so the restaurant is obviously not going to be criticised. But it would be nice if somebody could be insulted. Vegetarians, perhaps.

Le Caprice, by AA Gill is published by Hodder & Stoughton, price £25.

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