In London there is a wonderful shop called Books for Cooks. A bookshop, filled with – what else – cookbooks, it is situated at 4 Blenheim Crescent in Notting Hill and is the kind of place that Sunday supplements wax lyrical about. As does anyone who visits the shop. It is small, not so very wide, and has bookshelves from floor to ceiling, crammed with hundreds upon hundreds of books of amazing dishes, foods, ingredients and people. There is a cosy, albeit battered, couch in the middle of the floor, right between a piled-high table and a low shelf – just the place to sit and leaf through one of the many books that will take you on a journey to far off lands or reveal more about your own culinary surroundings. All this, and I haven’t yet got to the best bit.
When you walk into the shop, intent though you may be on cookbooks, your nose might distract you, leading you down the back, past the shelves and couch – to the Books for Cooks test kitchen. It’s where the cooks – Ursula Ferrigno (Bread, Trattoria), Eric Treuillé (Bread, Planet Organic – Naturally Good Food), Celia Brooks Brown (New Vegetarian, Vegetarian Foodscape) Jennifer Joyce (The Well Dressed Salad) – work through recipes from the plethora of cookbooks on the shelves.
Each day they cook a different simple and seasonal menu – soup, quiche or tart, maybe a desert or two, a few cakes – serving lunches, coffees and sweet things until, as they say themselves, everything runs out. And, with the smells of slow roasted tomatoes and Lemon Polenta Cake mingling with that of black inky print and new paper, everything does disappear quickly. Don’t even bother on a Saturday, much easier to grab a table or a space during the week and give yourself time to savour some good seasonal food with, perhaps a glass of wine from owner Eric’s own biodynamic vineyard in South West France.
If, as happened to me, you find yourself slightly dazed by all the cookbooks on offer, then you could always go the easy way out and pick up one of Books for Cooks own cookbooks. These are collections of the most requested and best-loved recipes from the cookbooks used in the test kitchen, tried out on very willing customers. Engaging and inspiring, the slim volumes are what Carolyn Hart’s Cook’s Books, while entertaining, tried to do but didn’t quite achieve. Familiar writers like Nigel Slater, Darina Allen, Sybil Kapoor, Donna Hay are all invoked, along with some less usual names – Tessa Bramley (The Instinctive Cook), Patricia Lousada (Flavours of the Sun) and Camellia Panjabi (Fifty Great Curries of India). The first time I was there, got a copy of their Favourite Recipes from Books 1, 2 & 3. I have since acquired volumes 4 and 5 and, methinks, a trip to the shop to check if there are any new additions, is soon in order. Books for Cooks – heaven on earth!
Books for Cooks is at 4 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, London, W11 1NN and – this is the important bit – is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00am to 6.00pm