A review of My Gastronomy…
This book review is a bit late in the making, twenty seven years to be precise. I am writing it now because twenty seven years ago I couldn’t afford to buy it. Back then it cost £16.95 new and was difficult to find where I worked.
Nico Ladenis was one of the giants of British gastronomy through the eighties and nineties. Self taught, his restaurant Chez Nico which he ran with his wife Dinah Jane was one of the finest in the country and Nico was the most controversial of them all. It would be fair to say that a young Marco Pierre White who spent a year working for him could not have failed to be inspired by both his talent in the kitchen and his attitude outside of it. Nico did not suffer fools and tales of him throwing out customers on a regular basis were stuff of legend.
Loved and loathed in equal measure he opened his restaurant with a personal philosophy on food, you were entering his home and therefore he expected a degree of decorum to be shown by the guests. The customer is always right was not a mantra he adopted, indeed he wrote the complete opposite in this book. anyone going there was under no illusion that you couldn’t get a prawn cocktail or a well done steak, his attitude was go elsewhere if that’s what you want. He would refuse to overcook meat, one couple sent a steak back twice for further cooking and both times it came back the same, not touched. In the end they ordered chicken and at the end of the meal demanded to see Nico. He came out, took their money and then tore it up in front of them before tossing it under the table!
Edwina Currie, the then health secretary gets it in here too. She moaned that there was no tomato soup on the menu so Nico tells us how she mashed her food up with a fork leaving the reader to make their own mind up. What is important here is to remember the era; it was a remarkable period in British restaurant food. This was the age of the celebrity chef/restaurateur before celebrity chefs. Peter Langan, the late co-owner of Langan’s Brasserie in London would abuse his guests on a regular basis, not for publicity. He was drunk, constantly. People went there to see what he’d do next. Keith Floyd was another. There was a real buzz about the London restaurant scene which filtered through to chefs across the country, not all but enough to make a difference. This was pre internet and pre daytime TV chef nonsense. Ladenis helped drive the standard and by the 90s he had moved from his small restaurant into the five star luxury of the Park Lane Hotel where he was awarded three Michelin stars at the same time as Marco. (Nico was the oldest ever recipient, Marco, the youngest) Like Marco he packed it all in, sensing (rightly) a new era in which he didn’t quite fit.
Ladenis makes valuable points about the good food guides and the poor sales of them in the UK as opposed to those across the Channel. He has little time for inspectors and their use. Like Marco after him he believed in the concept of a restaurant as a place not to be judged but to be enjoyed, why go out if you are set on critically dissecting it?
The recipes are wonderful and whilst they do not stand the test of time in the way that Marco’s has done they should be admired nonetheless. Ladenis’ knowledge of food and wine is remarkable, he loves to eat and that, I believe is what made him a great chef. He tasted food, allowed his palette to scrutinize it and then make a decision on its merit. If he declared it good then that was the end of it.
I am glad that my brother was with me when I bought this for £7, I am sure my face gave away a sense of nostalgia for an era that I greatly miss. The truth is that these characters no longer have a place in modern day society, it’s too sterile. It’s the same in sport. All that we’ll be left with is a shelf of old books reminding us of what fun it all used to be. My cooks simply will not have the memories that I have from when I was there age. I feel sorry for them.