Tomb Raider recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, which means 25 years of articles about how Lara Croft transcended video games to become a global icon even your gran has heard of. As a female games critic, I am personally asked to explain her enduring popularity 25 times an hour, to the point where I have boiled my answer down to this: for many of us, she symbolises a moment in the history of gaming where we saw ourselves represented for the first time. Not as a princess trapped in a castle, but as an enigmatic, acrobatic embodiment of fierceness. Naturally, the adolescent boys of the 90s also regarded her with the same distanced respect, right?
Anyway, here’s what nobody says they remember fondly about Tomb Raider: the food. Lara doesn’t have a signature snack, like Mario with his mushrooms or Pac-Man with his Mini Babybels. She’s never seen taking a break from shooting dinosaurs to chow down on a Kendal mint cake and some lemon-barley water. The early games allow you to explore her ancestral home, which has a walk-in freezer, but all it contains are giant legs of ham.
All of which makes the release of a Tomb Raider cookbook seem a bit odd, though admittedly, the Lara-related merchandise that’s been launched in the last two and a half decades includes everything from shower curtains and toothbrushes to fizzy pop, postage stamps and pants. The book is a glossy, well-produced tome, as well it might be with a cover price of £22.99. The food is the star – Lara doesn’t even feature on the cover – and the many full-page photographs of the dishes inside are beautifully styled. This is food you want to eat, which is a relief. Based on the later games’ Bear Grylls-style survivalist tone, you might have expected recipes for squirrel lasagne and urine soup.
Instead, much like Lara herself, the book flits around the world helping itself to cultural treasures from different countries. There’s focaccia from Italy, Japanese okonomiyaki, jollof from Ghana, and Nepalese momos. Representing England we have fish and chips, sausage and mash and chicken tikka masala. There are also recipes for beans on toast and Jaffa Cakes, presumably for when you can’t get to the shops but have some cannellini and gelatin lying around.
There’s little attempt to tie the recipes to the games beyond a cursory sentence explaining their inclusion (“Dr Willard can be seen enjoying a hot bowl of tomato soup in Tomb Raider III”). Apart from the “T. rex rib eye”, there aren’t even any good puns, which is a shame for anyone seeking the perfect recipe for spaghetti carbo-Lara.
The recipes are straightforward and easy to follow, with equipment lists, prepping and cooking times. The localisation for the UK market from the US feels a bit lazy, though; cream is heavy, cheese is shredded, and weights are in pounds rather than grams. Presumably the Brexiters will be happy.
As well as a cookbook, this is also billed as a travel guide. There are some obvious and unnecessary tips in the back: “Most countries require a passport for foreign entry.” (How different history might have been if Lara had not known this, and spent the first game exploring Heathrow.) Recipes are interspersed with lengthy sections about the history of key locations from the game. These are well-researched and dense with facts, but like a T. rex rib eye you’ve left on the hob for too long, it’s also a bit dry. There are brief, functional references to Lara’s relationship with the locations, but no attempt to evoke how it feels to explore them within the games.
To be fair, the pages are peppered with lush screenshots and artwork, but these feel like garnish rather than a key ingredient. It’s as if the book is afraid to acknowledge that it’s actually based on a video game. So … who is this cookbook for? The recipes are solid, but unlikely to blow the minds of foodies, who probably already have a recipe for tomato soup, or a tin opener. The tie-ins to the games feel tenuous, meanwhile, so there’s not enough meat to satisfy hardcore fans.
The whole thing takes itself awfully seriously, which is a shame, as the old games never did. (Famously, you could lock Lara’s doddery old butler in that walk-in freezer. This seemed like great entertainment in 1997, when we had five television channels.) Still, at least it’s better than any of the Tomb Raider films.