As a Trustee of the André Simon Awards for the best food and drink books of the year I know from receiving and reading 81 new food and cookery over the past eight weeks that the association between books and food has never been as pervasive as it is today.
Since restaurant chefs started writing their own cookbooks (highly profitable to both chef and restaurant if they sell well) their books are increasingly visible. I have watched Jamie Oliver sign a pile of over 20 of his latest in one go after service at his restaurant Fifteen while the plush Le Gavroche in Mayfair has a brochure on each of its bar tables listing all the Roux books. Sally Clarke’s shop in London W8 sells her cookbook and the works of her Californian mentor, Alice Waters.
And now that Starbucks operates in 43 branches of Borders across the UK opposite, in one instance, the one-off Ray’s Café in Foyles on Charing Cross Road, the opportunity to enjoy simultaneously good food, good coffee and good books is widespread.
Nowhere, however, is as intense, cramped or as much fun as Books for Cooks, London W11, owned and run by Rosie Kindersley and Eric Treuillé.
Books for Cooks makes absolutely no pretence as to what it does, stocking over 8000 titles on seemingly as many shelves, tables and alcoves becoming in the process, since its inception in 1983, the London magnet for cookery book lovers.
But what makes this place so special and has led to it being described as ‘the best smelling shop in the world’ is the small test kitchen at the back. Every day their chefs combine the produce from nearby Portobello market with their cookbooks’ many recipes into food for anyone lucky enough to be able to squeeze in.
There are only five tables and no bookings. The menu starts with cakes and coffee then from midday offers lunch – cauliflower and mustard soup, Tuscan minestrone, radicchio and wine risotto, roast pork with fennel and garlic – and desserts, of course.
Prices are low: £3 for soup, £4 for a main course, £5 for two courses and £7 for three. But you will end up spending far more on cookbooks perhaps even on the Books for Cooks own books compiled from favourite recipes tested each year (£4.99).
Books for Cooks, 4 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 1NN
tel 020 7221 1992, web www.booksforcooks.com
Open Tuesday-Saturday 1000-1800