Shelagh Ryan set up Lantana cafe in London in 2008, and this cookbook is a repertoire of recipes from the Australian-influenced cafe. Indeed, reading through this cookbook made me feel like I was flipping through the cafe menu, except this time, I had the chef's secrets in hand. It's a solid collection of recipes, ranging from breakfast and brunch items to larger plates suitable for dinner, and ending with cakes and sweets that pair well with coffee.
While the recipe names are all quite a mouthful (e.g., Sautéed Mixed Mushrooms with Lemon Herbed Feta on Toasted Sourdough or Warm Duck Breast with Roast Red Pepper, Cabbage and Kohlrabi Slaw), she brings together a set of ingredients that is not always apparent, which is where the true value of this book lies. And as most cooks can attest to, it only takes the idea of new flavors to inspire us to start cooking a recipe or craft our own version of it.
I did wish that the book included more details about Lantana cafe. Lantana is a popular local London cafe, but the book doesn't quite capture the cafe's character or personality, and perhaps that wasn't her goal. Regardless, it shouldn't stop one from investigating the flavor potential inside this cookbook.
Design and Photography:
It is an easy read with simple and tasteful food photography and styling. The recipes are divided into the following categories:
- Breakfast & Brunch
- Small Bites
- Salads & Soups
- Larger Plates
- Cakes & Bakes
Measurements of ingredients are given in both grams and ounces, or grams and teaspoons / tablespoons / cups. Oven temperatures are given both in Celsius and Fahrenheit. Obviously, this saves me (and other international readers) from having to convert any measurements!
There is an short index at the end of the book which makes it possible to find recipes based on ingredients.
Cooking from Cafe Kitchen:
A lot of the recipes sound delicious and mouthwatering, but are quite complex because one recipe often requires multiple steps for multiple components of the dish. The cookbook made me realize how much time and preparation goes into seemingly simple cafe foods, and the sheer number of ingredients that are needed to create a balanced flavor combination. For example, the Spicy Pork Burger with Mango Salsa requires 11 ingredients for the burgers patties, 7 ingredients for the mango salsa, and another 7 ingredients for a fennel and mint slaw to be served with it. And on top of that, you still need burger buns and mayonnaise.
But as a home cook, I had a hard time convincing myself that the recipes were worth the effort. Once I did though, I loved the result. I made the Cheddar Cornbread and Tomato Chili Jam, which was delicious and well worth the effort. The Cheddar Cornbread had a crumbly texture from the polenta, but was also chewy because of the grated cheese mixed in. The Tomato Chili Jam was spicy, sweet and tangy all at once, which offset the saltiness from the Cheddar Cornbread.
Unfortunately though, I did run into some trouble while following the recipe. My final product for the Tomato Chili Jam didn't look like the picture in the cookbook. Although it tasted delicious, my Tomato Chili Jam ended up very thin and watery. I wonder if I would have had a better result if the recipe had specified the type of tomato, and whether or not to deseed the tomato (a lesson I recently learned that does make a difference).
Cafe Kitchen by Shelagh Ryan is a solid collection of recipes and will really show you how to bring cafe dishes into your own kitchen, but should be reserved for those who can appreciate the complexity required to get the flavors just right.