Botanical: Inside the iconic brasserie. Recipes by Paul Wilson. Photography by William Meppem. (2007: Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne.) RRP AUD 85
Overview: An impressive 'chef's book' by respected Melbourne chef Paul Wilson, Botanical is both a serious cookbook and a self-congratulatory piece about the restaurant (the Botanical). Intended for serious home cooks or other chefs, this is perhaps the first local heavy-duty 'chef's book' Australia has seen, with recipes often encompassing many steps and long lists of ingredients. (It's possible Tetsuya competes in detail — I haven't been able to look at a copy to compare.)
Good bits: The recipes are interesting and span an impressive range. Emphasis is placed on local ingredients. Excellent design and photography. Another feather in the hat of the publishers Hardie Grant.
Recipe examples: wood-roasted calamari with chorizo sausage, olives and smoked paprika; gingerbread hotcakes with caramelised pineapple; slow-roasted beef blade over organic baby beetroots with red wine and beetroot sauce; grapefruit tart with sauternes jelly.
Bad bits: One clanger: the 'Conversions' page (p18) lists a tablespoon as being 15ml, which it definitely isn't in Australia (20ml). The publishers assure me that the error will be fixed in the next print run. Australians can ignore the typo, while overseas readers will just find some things a little underflavoured.
I feel the book needed tighter editing. The introduction, history of the restaurant, etc, are overly long and a touch repetitive, reading too much like a piece of untempered self-congratulation. Chris Lucas (the owner former owner) gets to write a recommendation of Riedel glassware in the section on wine and that seems out of place in this sort of volume.
A set of ingredient notes makes clear that flat-leaf parsley is the variety to be used in all recipes, but then every recipe with parsley re-states that it is 'flat-leaf parsley', making the original note unnecessary.
Wilson's passion for the best produce is admirable, but comments like 'make a worthwhile investment by buying real buffalo milk mozzarella' overlook the fact that the variable quality of Australian mozzarella (shaggy moo or normal moo) can make it an extremely bad investment on some days. Commentary on the recipes is also too loose sometimes.
Comments: Most of my negatives are unimportant when it comes to the cooking itself, thankfully. It's about time we saw a local book of this calibre in Australia! It won't be for everyone (because of the ambition it requires), and it certainly reflects Paul Wilson's style — solid classical cookery with modern flourishes, complex restaurant dishes, frequent nods to cuisines of the Mediterranean, and an affection for quail eggs, truffles and local seafood. This is an attractive large-format volume (almost 30x30cm) and I dread to think how many people will use it as a coffee table piece rather than actually cooking from it.