Apparently, when Jorge Fernandez and Rick Wells first met, it was their love of good coffee and a mutual appreciation of well-made ‘stuff’ that sparked the desire to embark on a venture together. Quitting their jobs - coffee shop manager and BBC journalist respectively - they resolved to open a place that offered the highest quality bread, cheese, cured meats, wine coffee and cake, in an environment that was both stylish and homely.
Their first ‘shop’ opened in Soho in 2007, and they have since expanded to a further 5 locations. Credited as one of the leading establishments in London’s contemporary café scene, they have developed a cult following for their coffee, sandwiches and sourdough cakes. RUSTIC is their debut book and a ‘celebration of honest food and bringing people together’. With the strap line ‘Simple food, from morning to night’, Fernandez and Wells share the recipes that define their philosophy, “that the best things in life are simple” and made for sharing with friends and family, with coffee or a glass of wine in hand.
It is Wells who writes the introduction and tells the story of how he and Fernandez met; their passion for quality produce, why they open in Soho and, most importantly, about the food they sell. There is an honesty in the way in which he writes and the passion shines through, best summarised when he explains that their ‘shops’ are “all driven by the same desire to serve simple food of the best possible quality in spaces that are uncluttered and maintain the integrity of the buildings they occupy”.
Following his introduction, there are seven sections, not including the Favourite London Addresses, the Thank Yous, About the Authors and, of course, the index at the very end of the book. The first section, Coffee, is introduced by Fernandez who explains The Importance of Coffee. Again, the founders’ passion is evident and it’s obvious that Jorge Fernandez knows his beans, even going as far as to tutor us in the RUSTIC method of brewing coffee. In fact, the method is SO descriptive, I swear I can smell the wonderful aroma of freshly brewed coffee. To go with your coffee, there are recipes for cakes: Banana Loaf with Italian Butter, Mini Chocolate Cakes with Prunes and, of course, Coffee and Walnut Cake.
Section 2 focuses on Breakfast and includes recipes (or rather, suggestions) for Eggs and Toast. Before you dismiss, remember that this book celebrates simplicity but don’t think for one moment that you’re just going to have just a fried egg and a slice of toast. Serving suggestions for toast include Morcilla with Aioli and Chorizo Picante with Heritage Tomatoes, and for eggs, we have Khlia-style Fried Eggs and Egg Mayonnaise and Black Pudding.
Section 3 discusses The Mid-Morning Snack, otherwise known as elevenses, where coffee and Eccles Cakes or Madeira Cake should help fill the hunger-gap between breakfast and lunch. Section 4 is all about Lunchtime Etiquette where we have suggestions for sandwich fillings and light salad recipes including Mozarella, Peaches and Prosciutto, and grilled Courgettes with Lemon and Sea Salt.
The fifth section - The British Staple – focuses on teatime, filling the gap between lunch and supper (although I guess the definition of teatime will depend on which are of the country you happen to be in). Here we have a selection of sweet recipes including Marrakechi Orange Cake, Sourdough Bread and Muscavado Pudding, Pomegranate and Raspberry Cake, and The Breton, a chunky buttery biscuit which appears to be designed specifically for dunking into large mugs of steaming hot tea. Section 6 - The Night Ahead - covers the hours from 6pm onwards, when “people dart hither and thither, meeting friends after work, looking for places to settle for a drink or a bite to eat”. This section’s recipes are certainly more substantial; soups, mains, cheese (suggestions) and desserts, include Marrakechi Shepherd’s Mountain Soup (roast butternut squash with couscous), Chorizo with Lentils, Chicken Tagine with Olives, Blood Oranges with Cinnamon Syrup and Figs with Chocolate and Marscapone. Section 7’s For the Tastebuds discusses the where’s and whys of the wine that RUSTIC offers in house and the selection of appetisers that they serve alongside it. Choose from Grilled Octopus, jamon and Manchego as accompaniments to your vino, beer or sherry.
I have often used the term ‘rustic’ in describing my own culinary exploits. They may not look perfect or be complicated in execution or ingredients but dammit, I can guarantee my concoctions will be edible and, at the very least, tasty. I appreciate the simplicity and occasional brevity of the recipes and suggestions in this book. In this busy world of ours, where we seem to be constantly hurrying and sharing every move/breath/meal we consume, it’s refreshing to see a cookbook that is pared back to the essentials. Delicious food needn’t take hours to make and with evocative writing and stunning photography, this book isn’t just about eating but a way of life.
RUSTIC by Fernadez & Wells is published by Hardie Grant Books, and is available in hardback at £20.