“Those of us with an overly developed interest in our lunch can measure out our lives in great meals”, writes Guardian food critic Jay Rayner in his preface to the newly published 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die.
If you check in here regularly, you’ll know that my own interest in lunch is exceptionally finely honed, so this is a book after my own heart. [I should also disclose that I’m one of the 70 “well-dined collection of restaurant reviewers, food writers, travel writers, journalists, inveterate eater-outers and bloggers” who have contributed from around the globe.]
So, another restaurant guide to add to your shelf which – if anything like mine – is already groaning with largely superannuated guides from various countries. What’s it got to offer and why buy it? First off, although I know this is part of an established series of 1001 Whatevers That You Absolutely Shouldn’t Miss Out On Before You Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil (books to read, movies to see, wines to taste…), I have misgivings about the title. I don’t care to be told which are the must-sees, must-dos and (in this case) must-eats that I have to tick off some kind of list in order to live a fulfilling life. I also admit that the business of ‘before you die’ has me wondering, with its unsettling hint that all those great meals, if eaten, could be speeding readers to an early grave.
Whatever. One of the good things about this burly, impressively bound paperback tome (it weighs in at almost 2 kilos) is its eclecticism. We were asked, from our various perches around the world, to contribute ideas for places that set themselves apart for a bunch of reasons, and which could/should range from humble to elevated. Thus you’ll find all kinds of eateries you could loosely describe as ‘restaurants’: at one end there’s a taco truck, a family restaurant serving typical Ecuadorian food, a place serving wild fish blue corn tacos, a Schnitzel specialist, a Currywurst stand and a hummus hub. At the other are the usual suspects like Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Noma in Copenhagen, Per Se in New York, Didier de Courten in Sierre/Switzerland and the Auberge de l’Ill in Alsace/France (two of my entries).
One minor quibble: at the top of each one-page entry is just the name of the establishment and the town in which it resides, but no mention in the heading of the country or even the continent. So if you’ve no clue where Geyongju, Culver City or Tofino are, it’s a bit of a hunt down to the bottom of the page where, in tiny letters, you discover they’re in South Korea, the US and Canada respectively. But okay, that’s a quibble rather than a deal-breaker.
The point about 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die is that even if you never come close to eating in a fraction of these places, you can have loads of fun reading about them, licking your lips and living the meals vicariously. London-based food writer Jenny Linford, who masterminded the whole project, has made a point of choosing people who are specialists in conjuring up great word pictures of gorgeous food in the succinct 300-word space allotted to each entry.
Leave the book on the bedside table in a spare room or beside the loo, and your visitors will have an edifying time leafing through, pasting in post-its, making plans…and dreaming of lunch.