Book review: Friends at my table by Alice Hart

Friends at my table caught my attention as a cookery book with a difference, offering not only a variety of delicious recipes but a whole host of ‘whimsical’ ideas for entertaining groups of family and friends. With summer approaching, this seemed like the ideal book to give me some inspiration for friendly gatherings.

The recipe pages are lovely and follow the standard cookery book format: recipe and bold accompanying photograph of the dish. The recipes themselves are tempting and relatively fuss-free. One particular favourite was the Lemon and Rosemary tart – two flavours I would never have imagined putting together – but complimented each other perfectly. Her menu suggestions are thoughtful and creative and she bravely breaks with tradition: a beach picnic menu without any mention of sausage rolls was truly refreshing.  

The book is spilt into themed sections and each is interspersed with, what the author describes as, ‘whimsical’ ideas for entertaining: games, activities and ideas for themed events. This was a lovely touch and I particularly liked the cloud spotting feature and accompanying watercolour illustrations. 

My one gripe with the book is the images. Although the photography was beautiful, for a book with entertaining loved ones at its core some of the pictures often lacked atmosphere. In fact, in many of the sections dedicated to entertaining large groups there were no people in the photographs at all.

The book starts well with a beautiful ‘Vietnamese Bridal shower for 8’, which Hart states is merely a suggested theme for any kind of spring supper. The menu plan is creative and achievable and the accompanying photographs feature a group of young women eating together and enjoying themselves. It was all rather lovely and without doubt helped me easily imagine how I might organise something similar. 

However, as the book progresses there is a distinct lack of people in any of the pictures. One particular section titled ‘Beach Cricket Barbeque for 6’ had the potential to be really inspiring. All the recipes and games had been designed, as you would expect, for 6 people and the section provided guidance for how the whole family – even the dog - could get involved in beach cricket. Brilliant. However, the photographs in that section either featured the same two women on a deserted stony beach or a no people at all. It just felt a bit cold and lonely and was crying out for some beautiful shots of people having fun to really stimulate the imagination of the reader.  

Overall, I did enjoy Friends at my Table and there were many recipes that I will definitely return to. Hart has a warm and confident writing style and throughout the book reassures readers that cooking for large numbers of people is just a matter of keeping the menu simple, planning in advance and above all, having fun.

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