From the pages of Eatstreets

Author: A.A. Gill

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolso

RRP: $55

Table Talk - Sweet and Sour, Salt and Bitter

11 November 2008.
Reviewed by Stephanie Clifford-Smith

You know in broad terms how you’ll respond to most of the books reviewed here. You might grow hungry, you might get excited about visiting a particular country for its cuisine or you might dash out to buy a fabulous ceramic tagine. But it’s not often you’ll find a book here that will reduce you to tears. The laughing kind, that is.

This volume is a best-of notorious British critic Gill’s restaurant reviews and general food writing from his columns in Tatler and the Sunday Times as well as some travel writing. The compilation was made possible by removing all actual restaurant names, presumably because the book publisher hasn’t the liability insurance the original newspaper publishers had. But the material suffers not one jot because of it. A reader can still delight in the copy without knowing which place Gill’s referring to.  Open the book anywhere — I just did — and you’ll find gems such as this:

“I ordered a lasagne. There’s only so much you can do for lasagne in the looks department. The only garnish that would improve it would be a power cut. And you have to go gingerly. It can be like emptying Vesuvius into your mouth, turning your tongue into a Pompeian pumice mummy. I needn’t have been such a scaredy-cat; you could have stirred this one with a peeled baby. It was lukewarm on the fringes and refreshingly cold in the middle.”

But just to show AA does have the capacity for enjoyment, there’s this on one of his favourite travel destinations, Peshawar:

“In short, I have never been to a more exciting and intoxicating place. Peshawar simmers with rumours of holy war, while its markets are swagged with smugglers’ booty. The streets lurch in a confusion of stoic donkeys, bony horses, gaudy lorries, motorbike taxis and sinewy men who have walked a thousand miles from the high places on empty stomachs. You can get anything on the streets of Peshawar — except the antibiotics to cure whatever it was you got.”

Put this book down for a second and you’ll have to fight to prise it back out of the hands of fellow householders. Best keep it to yourself until you’re done.

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