“Leon – Family and Friends” by Kay Plunkett-Hogge and John Vincent

“The first Leon restaurant, in London’s Carnaby Street, opened its doors in 2004 built on the promise of serving good fast food that does you good. Now, 13 restaurants later, Leon serves over 70,000 devoted fans a week.”

Leon’s fourth cookery book, “Family and Friends”, published by Octopus, is a tribute to cooking for your nearest and dearest, aiming to “make the most of the time available to feed your family fabulous food” and to celebrate “the power of food to bring people together.”

The recipes contained in this 304 page volume are all ones you could imagine setting on a table before a gathering of friends and family – both homely and familiar, with a few more unusual creations thrown in.

Written by Kay Plunkett-Hogge, whose husband managed the administration of the book, and John Vincent, who is a co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain alongside Henry Dimbleby, it has a diverse range of recipes that makes it a kitchen shelf staple. There are breakfast recipes, instructions on how to cook a full roast dinner, baking recipes, picnic and lunch dishes, puddings and more… As a cookery book you would want to refer to when needing to cook something that is simple, wholesome, frugal, quick and easy it achieves its mission.

There is a real sense of fun and entertainment from both the photographs {by Georgia Glynn Smith} and the writing it seems as though a lot enjoyment was had in the production. Both authors reveal their distinctive personalities and heritage: the inside covers are patchworks of photographs of family and friends, as if the reader is looking through a private album {maybe too personal at times}. The more unusual recipes showcase Kay’s Thai upbringing.

The layout is very simple and effective, although the organisation of content in a “Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday” series is not entirely optimal. The idea is that the “Today” recipes are ones that you could make today, and the “Tomorrow” recipes are ones that take a little more thought and preparation. In fact you will find some of the recipes interchangeable between the two categories. The “10 things you should know how to cook before you leave home”, however, showcase a well-thought out progression from the recipes that encourage children to be involved in the kitchen, which are featured earlier on in the book.

Maybe the front cover is not as alluring as cookbook covers need to be in this very competitive, visual market, to make readers grab the book off the crowded shelves. However, if you are familiar with the Leon restaurants, their branding and food, then you are more likely to pick it out, as a trusted name.

The majority of the ingredients used in the recipes are easily purchased in most supermarkets, and only a few, used in the more exotic recipes, might require more searching.

I tried two recipes, to test the quality of the instructions. Firstly, I made “Happy Cakes”, which are a version of hotcakes, made with buckwheat and buttermilk, and blueberries usually seen in American pancakes as well as mashed bananas. They were really quick and simple to make, since the high amount of buckwheat flour thicken the mixture so it only had to rest for five minutes. The instructions were clear and there was little leeway to go wrong. With maple syrup poured over them you couldn’t taste the sourness of the buttermilk, which might be an acquired taste.

I also tested a savoury recipe, Kay’s “Pad Krapow Neua”. Again, in true Leon style, this recipe was quick and easy to make, with clear instructions, and had all the excellent flavours of an authentic Thai dish. In the photo and the description of the recipe it does mentions that this dish is traditionally served with a fried egg, but the egg is not in the ingredients list and is tagged on as an extra instruction at the end of the recipe, however.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable and useful cookery book, filled with recipes that are perfect for cooking and sharing at this time of year in particular. It keeps with Leon’s ethos of cooking good fast food, with an element of fun and crowd-pleasing, which seems to be embodied by the people behind the chain’s concept.

Further Information

Leon Restaurants: www.leonrestaurants.co.uk

Follow on Twitter: @LEONRestaurant

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