I was drawn to this book because it appealed to me on so many levels. I love food and cooking; I am considering moving to Italy post-Brexit; and I am drawn to the idea of an extended European road-trip, be it in a camper-van, a car, or by motorbike. In the nineties Jude and I even spent a holiday riding around the Greek island of Thassos on a moped, although my only gastronomic memory is of having egg and chips in a taverna that opened out-of-season especially for us. Perhaps because of this my expectations were set too high, but for me this is one of those books which attempts to combine travel and cookery without quite hitting the mark. The sum is somehow less than the parts.
Matthew Fort is a well-respected food columnist and writer. He was Food and Drink Editor at The Guardian for 15 years from 1989 to 2006. His accolades include Glenfiddich Food Writer of the Year, Restaurant Writer of the Year and Cookery Writer of the Year. His food credentials are undisputed.
This is the second in a series of (so far) three, chronicling his Italian adventures on a Vespa, along with Eating Up Italy and Summer in the Islands. All have been well received and well reviewed.
In this book he returns to Sicily, an island he first visited with his brother some 30 years earlier, on a gastronomic road-trip. The renowned chef Giorgio Locatelli, himself an award-winning author, is quoted on the front cover describing it as “Elizabeth David meets Jack Kerouac”. This, sadly, is simply not true.
As primarily a food book it works well. It is impossible to doubt Matthew’s enthusiasm for Sicilian cooking. His examination of Sicily’s vibrant food culture is comprehensive and thorough. He writes passionately about how the younger generation are abandoning the traditional ingredients and techniques in favour of convenience. The Elizabeth David reference is perhaps a valid one, but Matthew is no Kerouac.
As a travel book that it fails to satisfy. Despite the clever conceit of travelling on a Vespa it lacks the depth of detail that makes me feel part of the adventure. I would like to know far more about the ordinary people he meets, the hotels he stays in, the petrol stations, cafes and bars.
The entire book rather reminds me of the last chapters of Chris Stewart’s Last Days of the Bus Club, which leave the impression that a pressing deadline compelled him to throw in a few recipes to make up the word-count. I frequently found myself having to doggedly continue to the end of a chapter.
In conclusion, Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons is a book better suited to foodies than travel buffs.