Table Manners The Cookbook review: 'What it lacks in cheffy precision, it makes up for in damned good food'

After creating a hit podcast in 2017, singer Jessie Ware and her mum, Lennie, have finally released the cookbook fans have been waiting for

Table Manners 
Lennie and Jessie Ware, the mother and daughter team behind the Table Manners podcast  Credit: Ola O Smit 

If you haven’t heard of Table Manners, what planet have you been living on? Three years ago, the singer Jessie Ware launched a podcast with her mum, Lennie. Since then, it has been downloaded 80 million times, becoming a global phenomenon in the process.

The format is a winner: mother and daughter (mostly mother) cook up a Friday night dinner for a famous guest – Ed Sheeran, Sadiq Khan, Yotam Ottolenghi – bicker and drink (mostly daughter) and create a convivial atmosphere listeners wish they could take part in. In the lockdown, they are now serving “virtual” dinners.

Approach

Table Manners: The Cookbook (Ebury, £22) is filled with favourites from the show, such as Lady Gaga’s gefilte fish. The book has plenty of stories to appeal to its core audience, but sufficient variety and enticing recipes for those who haven’t heard the podcast.

Neither Ware is a professional cook or chef, which places this in the realm of family cookbook. Often, these can be lovely reads, if a little light on culinary interest. Not here. There are six main sections, covering easy meals, Jewish classics, summer holiday favourites (mostly reflecting their love of Greece), “Chrismukkah”, and desserts.

The recipes

Chicken soup with matzo balls, arguably the star dish of the Ashkenazi cooking pantheon, makes a regular appearance on the podcast. Their guests love it, but doesn’t every mother make the best version? I gave it a go before the crisis hit.

Chicken soup with matzo balls

Chicken soup in the book, left; my attempt, right Credit: Ola O Smit

A simple, if time-consuming, dish. Everyone has their version; this one is legendary. Chicken thighs and drumsticks simmer for hours, with onions (skin on, for a broth with a darker hue), leeks, carrots, celery and swede. The soup was beautifully sweet, fatty, and satisfying – possibly the best chicken soup I’ve had. Sorry, Mum. The matzo balls were a touch stodgy, but in the most comforting of ways.

Roasted Boursin chicken and leeks

The book's chicken, left; a home-made attempt, right Credit: Ola O Smit 

If a cookbook is for expanding culinary horizons, what could be more illuminatory than learning you can shove a whole Boursin cheese between a chicken’s skin and flesh? A wonderfully gluttonous recipe, one that produces a beautifully tender roast (essentially a massive chicken Kiev), though I had to adjust timings.

No-churn cappuccino ice cream

Ice cream in the cookbook, left; my version, right Credit: Ola O Smit 

A quick and easy, cheat’s ice cream, made from whipping up double cream, condensed milk, coffee and Ferrero Rocher – as rich and delicious as it sounds, with the crunch from the chocolate elevating the dessert.

The verdict

Every time I see a family cookery book, I worry it’ll read like one long in-joke. But the podcast has, in effect, created a big family of devotees. That doesn’t guarantee success, however. The book isn’t perfect (it doesn’t always say whether to peel veg, for example). But what it lacks in cheffy precision, it makes up for in humour and damned good food.