Food Britannia by Andrew Webb

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Food Britannia by Andrew Webb

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Recipe-free but rich in the stories behind food new and old - it's a book to dip into or to take with you on a trip.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: June 2011
Publisher: Random House
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1847946232

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I've always suspected that British food gained its dreadful reputation after the end of World War II. Rationing lasted for many years and the sort of food which you could buy in the average hotel or restaurant was pretty poor. An image like that sticks: we might have Stilton cheese, Scottish raspberries, Welsh lamb and a host of other wonderful foodstuffs but still we are thought of as the people who eat the food of a post-war boarding house. Andrew Webb is a food journalist and photographer - and he's set out to prove that there's a wealth of regional food, traditional recipes and passionate producers just waiting to be found.

The format is simple and effective. The United Kingdom is divided up geographically into eleven areas and we start our look at each one with a map. Red stars indicate the location of 'a story' - in reading this book you've got to remember that it's the stories that are important to Webb. He'll enjoy the taste of the food, but there's no suggestion that he's a gourmet and not a hint of a recipe. It's what's behind the food or the producer that's important. It might be a traditional food that's been around for hundreds of years, or a cafe that's been on the go for a year or two. It's the story, got it?

Let's look at the county with which I'm most familiar - Yorkshire. I'll confess that I was expecting to find a mention of a local businessman with a great talent for self-promotion and some admittedly good food, but there wasn't a mention. Instead there was a story about a bakery which I must pass on a regular basis, but have never noticed. They do curd tarts and they obviously do them the right way - at a very reasonable price. That's one needing an early visit then. There's rhubarb, gooseberries, game, pies and even After Eight mints. There are some neat pieces of history too and I was impressed by the background knowledge of Bettys Tea Rooms - which even a lot of locals wouldn't be too familiar with. If you find somewhere you like then there are cross-references to other similar places which you might enjoy.

I'm not quite as familiar with Wales but I lived there for a few years and I couldn't resist a trip through Swansea market to get some Welsh cakes. It might be the best part of half a century since I was there, but it hadn't changed at all, particularly when some sugar was thrown into the bag of Welsh cakes. I was never particularly fond of laver bread but Webb's description - it resembles make-up searching for a face is perfect and illustrates his talent for the bon mot.

It's a book to dip into, to take on trips rather than to read though. My only worry is that it will date. Traditional dishes will always be traditional dishes but producers do come and go or are subsumed by others. Values change. It's a book very much of the moment and should be enjoyed as such.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If you enjoy this book we think that you might also like English Food by Jane Grigson. She too had a love of the story behind the food.

Buy Food Britannia by Andrew Webb at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Food Britannia by Andrew Webb at

Buy Food Britannia by Andrew Webb at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Food Britannia by Andrew Webb at


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