Drinking French by David Lebovitz

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Review by Hayley Anderton

Before everything started to close down the books I had been particularly anticipating, ordering, and reading, were mostly food and drink titles. Looking at them stacked up on the table in front of me I’m grateful that they are, not so much for the inspiration they offer (although I am grateful for that) but the escapism they represent.

‘Drinking French’ has me dreaming of lazy days in Paris hopping from cafés to bars, apéritifs before dinner… My vision of this has much more to do with dream than reality, which is just fine – extra apéritifs do no harm in the imagination, and David is a dream companion for the excursion. Knowledgeable, entertaining, and informative.

Getting hold of ingredients is hit and miss at moment, I’ve been lucky where I am in a city centre; I think I could probably pick up gelatin if I wanted to make Armagnac marshmallows. It’s unlikely that people have been panic buying it and there are no queues to speak of into the M&S food hall. It also seems probable that flavored syrups might still be on the shelf (Teisseire is one brand to look for) and if they are there are worse things to have to hand to make up some classic French café drinks.

I have neither Pastis (not a fan of anise based drinks generally) or syrups, but that’s not stopping me be charmed by the idea of a Feuille Morte which mixes mint and grenadine with it. The name comes from the resulting dead leaf brown colour.

If you have a garden and handy places to forage, there’s a whole chapter on making your own infusions and liqueurs. If that’s not an option most of them are both commercially available and easy to find and the beauty of this book is that David gives recipes for cocktails and apéritifs that I actually want to make along with the recipes for the infusions themselves.

He gives some recipes for apéro snacks in the final chapter which is a nice finishing touch, just as the recipes for tisanes, Café au Lait, and various hot chocolates are the perfect way to start the book, but the main reason I wanted this was for the cocktail recipes and the discussion of French apéritifs. Followers of my blog will know I’ve got a bit of a thing about Vermouth and its cousins.

‘Drinking French’ has not disappointed on this score. There are a few things (Suze, Byrrh, Picon, RinQuinQuin, and Cap Course particularly) that I’ve seen in ingredient lists in old cocktail books, but never for sale locally. They’re not hard to find online, but a website selling something won’t necessarily tell me why I want to buy it.

Lebovitz’s descriptions of these things coupled with his cocktail recipes for using them gives me a much better idea of what I do and don’t want (I want all of them) to try. His cocktails pass the test of being things you can realistically make at home. Some demand a bit of prep in the way of an infusion or a syrup but they’re at the practical end of the scale and sound easy to use up, so worth the minimal effort involved.

It’s a great book to add to the equipment of any home bar or kitchen and a pleasure to read. As someone who bought it specifically for its boozy content it’s been full of bonuses in the way of non-alcoholic and foody suggestions, and again as a book to read my way through. Highly recommended!

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Hayley Anderton Blogs at Desperate Reader, she has recently come out of the wine trade after 20 years but that’s made no difference to her interest in apéritifs.

David Lebovitz, Drinking French (Ten Speed Press, 2020) 978-1-60774-929-5, 293pp., hardback.

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