So what is a Bibendum? It sounds like the Latin name for a baby’s nappy (diaper) but it is, in fact, the name of a rather special restaurant. You might not be familiar with it if you don’t either live, work or eat in London but be assured it’s a classic.
Monsieur Bibendum was the original Michelin man. That white rounded fellow who looks a bit like an inflated mummy. He has appeared for more than a century on posters, maps and book covers and he is also immortalised (not sure that’s the right word in the circumstances) in fine fashion in stained glass in the Bibendum building, which houses the restaurant of the same name.
Why would I say the Bibendum is a classic? If the late Elizabeth David ate there and pronounced the lemon tart the best she had ever had, then this restaurant deserves the title. Throw in a good selection of royal, nearly royal, famous and trying-to-be guests then you have a restaurant that would be noteworthy even if it was housed in a bike shed… and the Bibendum most definitely isn’t.
The food at the Bibendum ranges from French traditional (steak au poivre), through British comforting (think some very classy fish and chips) to contemporary and stylish (consider Slow-cooked Pork Belly with Chorizo and Sherry). This book offers some of their best dishes and allows you to make them at home.
The Bibendum Cookbook is a stunner. Having said that I should say that it would be hard to go wrong when you have fabulous dishes and one of the most photogenic buildings in London. Lisa Linder has masterfully captured the style of architecture, food and even staff members. Terence Conran was the project co-ordinator so there is little doubt that the book would impress.
This is a treasure-house of Bibendum favourites. There are ten classic Bibendum dishes and then more seasonal suggestions from head chef Matthew Harris. If you are a frequenter of the restaurant you will pick those dishes that you have found the most memorable. There is nothing here that seems over-elaborate or cheffy. It’s restaurant food at its finest but totally accessible to the home cook.
Of the Classic Bibendum I would choose Onion Tart. It’s a simple dish but marvellous when done well. Make a good shortcrust pastry and don’t be tempted to cut corners, and success is assured. Spring tempts me with Jambon Persillé with Sauce Gribiche. This traditional terrine is hard to beat when served with its sharp and flavourful accompaniment. Matthew serves his with toasted baguette but I’d go for crusty rustic bread.
Restaurant desserts are always tempting and the Bibendum has Roasted Peaches with Ricotta, Almonds and Port on their summer menu. Apricots can be substituted for the white peaches if you prefer. Just serve with some crème fraiche and perhaps a glass of Amaretto.
The Bibendum Cookbook is a gift-quality volume that is bound to be popular with lovers of the restaurant but also with those who love good sensible food. I am sure the amazing architecture adds to the experience but we can always settle for home, fine food and a French road map as a table runner.
Cookbook review: The Bibendum Cookbook
Authors: Terence Conran, Simon Hopkinson, Matthew Harris
Published by: Conran Octopus
Price: £25.00, $29.95US
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018