Thursday, 19 November 2015

The food of James Bond - what is brizzola?

Food and eating are as much part of the James Bond books as drinking, gun-play, gambling and car chases. Reading the books today, many of the dishes Bond consumes – exotic or sophisticated in the 1950s and early '60s – are now commonplace and enjoy a regular place on the dining table. Spaghetti Bolognese and shrimp curry are two examples. Other dishes leave us scratching our heads. Why does Bond eat an avocado for dessert? And just what is brizzola?

I discuss Bond's odd views about avocados in a earlier post. As for the brizzola, it has been suggested that the dish is something of an Ian Fleming invention. In fact, not only does the dish exist (possibly the name derived from bresaola, an Italian salted beef), it was a favourite of a former US president.

(c) Penguin
Felix Leiter orders brizzola for Bond in a New York restaurant in Diamonds are Forever (chapter 8). Ian Fleming describes it as beef straight-cut across the bone, which is roasted, then broiled. This is not dissimilar from the description given to Lowell Sun journalist Earl Wilson in December 1971 by Robert Kreindler, president of New York's famous '21' Club. He defined brizzola as 'charcoal-broiled prime rib of beef with bone intact'. Evidently 21 was well known for the dish. Earl Wilson also reported that President Richard Nixon regularly ordered brizzola when he ate at the club during his visits to New York.

While James Bond dines at Sardi's, Ian Fleming had been to 21 (as well as Sardi's), and recommended the restaurant in his New York chapter of Thrilling Cities. Fleming often gave Bond the food that he himself had eaten. Whether he ate brizzola at Sardi's or 21 before putting it on Bond's plate is uncertain, but it is likely that his description is at least based on experience.  

How might you cook brizzola today if recreating the dish at home? My suggestion is to take a steak cut from a prime rib of beef – complete with bone – and cook it over a charcoal barbecue or, the second-best option, on a griddle pan. Larger cuts or joints of prime-rib beef should be roasted before being finished off on the hob or barbecue for that essential brizzola taste.

For more information about Bond's dining, and recipes inspired by the food he eats (though not, alas, brizzola), I recommend Licence to Cook, a cookbook of Bondian recipes. Or, for a comprehensive guide to food in the Bond books and films, there is James Bond's Cuisine: 007's Every Last Meal, by Matt Sherman.


  1. Brizzola steak with Lyonnaise potatoes was on the April 15, 1927 Hotel Astor menu.

    1. Hi Shawn, thanks for your comment. Very interesting. And thanks for the link to the NYPL website. That looks like a brilliant resource. I'm going to have fun browsing among the menus!


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