Book Review: Around the World in Eighty Meals

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Following Phileas Fogg’s route, with detours thrown in for more tasty bites, food and travel writer Nan Lyons offers a tour of her favorite stops in Around the World in Eighty Meals (Red Rock Press, January 16, 2011). Lyons highlights many famous, fancy restaurants, with a solid sampling of more informal spots, including a Singapore parking lot and a London food truck. For dedicated foodies, most of her picks will be old news, and for those not rolling in dough, many will be out of reach. For a good overview of where restaurants around the world have been, though, and with some suggestions of where they’re going, readers may enjoy dipping in and out of this book.

Fogg’s journey gives Lyons, the author of Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, a chance to show off her impressive list of travels. She does so in an attractive book, with a nifty 3-D cover and photos throughout. Along with the dining descriptions and overviews of each city she covers, Lyons give sidebars on the area around each restaurant, with suggestions for shopping, tourist sites, and other places to eat.

The tour begins, of course, in London, moving on to France, Italy, India, Singapore, China, and the United States. Lyons doesn’t attempt to stick strictly to Fogg’s route; she throws in detours to Brighton, Taiwan, Delhi, Rome, and Beijing, among others. Throughout, Lyons does a reasonable job providing a sense of place in the introductions to each destination.

This isn’t a book to read straight through, or it will begin to feel repetitive, and the meal and place descriptions will run together (and readers may, after getting in to the book, find the cute plays-on-words a bit much). Pop in and out of the chapters instead to experience the joy Lyons clearly felt on her travels.

One off-note in a book devoted to highlighting the author’s favorite restaurants: Lyons writes about at least two that have undergone major changes (a fire and renovation, in one case; a renovation and change of management in another) while noting that she hasn’t been to them since those changes. Certainly restaurants often cycle quickly through such ups and downs, making it hard to stay current with them on a book’s production schedule, but it still makes these recommendations feel less solid.

For some, but far from all, of the restaurants, Lyons provides labels from “inexpensive” to “crushingly expensive.” The missing labels fit with the editing through the rest of the book, which will be distracting to readers who like their punctuation punctual. (Hyphens come willy-nilly, commas appear with utter inconsistency, and words—or entire recipe directions—go missing. The section on the restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower, Le Jules Verne, instructs readers not to bother with dessert—but runs, you guessed it, a mouth-watering photo of a chocolate dessert.)

The 14 recipes here range from easy (scones—fine, although the recipe gives no oven temperature) to a two-page curried crab appetizer, but home cooking isn’t the point, of course; the food in this book to tempt a reader generally goes far beyond what a home cook would attempt. Better to bookmark a few pages, then book a trip to Lyons’ favorites.

This review first appeared online at the New York Journal of Books.

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