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The Prawn Cocktail Years

Author: Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham


The Prawn Cocktail Years was first published in 1997 but was re-released in 2006 following the huge success of Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories, in which Lindsey Bareham was a collaborator.

The book was written when Hopkinson and Bareham were sitting round the kitchen table (over a nice bottle of Alsace) talking about the restaurant food of the 1950s through 1970s that had been lost from the menus in favour of more modern offerings. Their list grew rapidly - starting with Prawn Cocktail and Black Forest Gateau before swiftly moving on to Swedish Meatballs, Chicken Maryland and Sole Veronique.

They explain in their introduction that "the purpose of this book is to redefine the Great British Meal and rescue other similarly maligned [as Brown Windsor Soup, Steak Diane and Peche Flambee] from years of abuse, restoring them to their former status". This they have done with aplomb. I was recently asked by a Chilean visitor to London which cookbook was the best for her to learn about British food and I had no hesitation in recommeding The Prawn Cocktail Years.

The cookbook is divided into the following sections and I have listed some typical dishes from each section:

  • The Great British Meal Out - Prawn Cocktail, Steak Garni and Black Forest Gateau;
  • The Fifties Hotel Dining Room - Cream of Tomato Soup, Oxtail Soup, Egg Mayonnaise, Cold Salmon Mayonnaise, Scampi with Tartare Sauce, Mixed Grill, Chicken Maryland, Creamed Spinach, Carottes Vichy and Trifle;
  • The Gentleman's Club - Oeufs en Gelee, Mulligatawny, Shepherds Pie, Toad in the Hole, Potted Shrimps, Macaroni Cheese, Welsh Rarebit, Fish Cakes, Kedgeree. Spotted Dick and Custard, Treacle Tart and Rice Pudding;
  • The Continental Restaurant -Borscht, Spanish Omlette, Stuffed Vine Leaves, Taramasalata, Chicken Kiev, Wiener Schnitzel, Beef Stroganoff, Apple Strudel and Rhum Baba;
  • Expresso Bongo - Cornish Pasty, Pork Pie, Sausage Rolls and Scotch Egg;
  • The Sixties Bistro - Eggs Florentine, French Onion Soup, Garlic Mushrooms, Celeriac Remoulade, Pate Maison, Coq au Vin, Trout with Almonds, Cheese Fondue, Lemon Meringue Pie, Profiteroles and Chocolate Mousse.
  • The Trat-era - Minestrone, Pasta alla Carbonara, Lasagne al Forno, Saltimbocca, Zucchini Fritters, Osso Buco and Oranges in Caramel.
  • Chez Gourmet - Champignons a la Grecque, Vichyssoise, Gazpacho, Salmon Mousse with Cucumber Salad, Beef Wellington, Duck a l'Orange, Tomatoes Provencale, Pears in Red Wine and Creme Brulee.

In other words, if you were born in the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s and are looking for the restaurant food of your youth then this is the book you are looking for. If you were born in the 1970s there is every chance that dishes you were given as a special treat at home are in this cookbook.

However the difference with this book is that the recipes are updated for the modern shopper and cook and use fresh ingredients, whereas many of them would have been originally preprared in restaurant and home kitchens with the best available ingredients that were available at the time.

I find this an invaluable book and often refer back to it, especially when I am preparing comfort food which I know will be appreciated by a large group. The reason why so many of these recipes remain in our brains as something treasured from our youths is that while the recipes may now be unfashionable, they actually tasted delicious.


Michael Joseph (Penguin), originally published 1997, reviewed edition 2006, £25, 272 pages (hardback)


Joe Saumarez Smith (19 October 2007)