Biblio-Text: Books For Cooks

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 115 months ago
Biblio-Text: Books For Cooks
So, what do you fancy for dinner tonight?
So, what do you fancy for dinner tonight?
A lovely squishy sofa for browsing
A lovely squishy sofa for browsing
Is there such a thing as window cooking?
Is there such a thing as window cooking?
The Twinkies cookbook - yes, it is real
The Twinkies cookbook - yes, it is real
Fancy a tipple from the Books for Cooks vineyard?
Fancy a tipple from the Books for Cooks vineyard?
Apparently the sausage dogs belong to the shop's owners
Apparently the sausage dogs belong to the shop's owners
Lemon curd cake with chocolate glaze and almond cake, all made on the premises
Lemon curd cake with chocolate glaze and almond cake, all made on the premises
The Books for Cooks café
The Books for Cooks café
Nada Saleh demonstrates Turkish cuisine in the workshop
Nada Saleh demonstrates Turkish cuisine in the workshop
Someone wisely cycled to Books for Cooks to burn off all that cake
Someone wisely cycled to Books for Cooks to burn off all that cake
Historic cooking
Historic cooking
More recipes than you can shake a biscotti at
More recipes than you can shake a biscotti at
Enjoy a literary lunch
Enjoy a literary lunch
The café and weeny test kitchen
The café and weeny test kitchen

Continuing our amble round London's independent bookshops

Track off to one side of Portobello Road Market and you'll find Blenheim Crescent, home to a trio of bookshops. The first is Books for Cooks where you'll find a book on any type of cookery you can think of as well as foodie fiction, history, art, chemistry and more. The shop was founded in 1983, a time when UK food was derided the world over (and, let's face it, rightly so), but now that we have Heston Blumenthal, River Café and Nigella, Books for Cooks is still somewhere to be at one with food, rather than indulge a TV fad.

At the back of the shop is a test kitchen and café where staff make lunches with seasonal produce from the nearby market stalls and bake delicious cakes, all using recipes from books in stock. Lunch is served at 12 but we saw people starting to queue much earlier to be sure of grabbing one of the tables. It's that good. You could even have a glass of Books for Cooks's own red wine, made from grapes grown on owner Eric's vineyard in the south of France.

Upstairs is the workshop space where you can learn from the experts how to make all kinds of goodies. And if that sounds like too much work, how about a Literary Lunch with a foodie author - including our own SallyB on 6 May, as she continues her quest to conquer London one event at a time!

It's rather a lot to cram into one small shop, so we caught up with Sally from Books for Cooks and found out a bit more...

What kinds of books do you sell and why?

Cookbooks! Just cookbooks and books about food and wine matching, the science of food, food writing and a small selection of novels and memoirs with a strong foodie element.

Why did you become a bookseller?

Like many an unemployed literature graduate with a addiction to reading I was drawn to bookshops to feed my habit. I have been at Books for Cooks for about five years. I used to come to buy and then finally realised it made more sense if they paid me to come, although tragically they now take back a considerable portion of my salary as surrounded by books I just buy more.

What's the weirdest or most serendipitous thing to happen in your shop?

The most serendipitous must be [owners] Eric and Rosie meeting and falling in love at the shop and then buying the shop (most people would have just bought a postcard) and running it. Weirdness is supplied by the constant stream of customers.

Are there any local myths or curiosities attached to your shop?

I don't know about myths, the locals are attracted by the test kitchen cafe at the back from which we cook lunch - a three course lunch from a different cookbook every day. Testing recipes is fun and they almost always work - sometimes they are superlative - occasionally you just have the soup. It is so popular. We don't take bookings and start serving at 12, the queue often starts to form at 11.30 and by midday you cannot see across the shop.

What are you reading right now?

Reading or cooking from? All Books for Cooks staff cook from the books all the time. At the moment my personal favourite is Valentine Warner's What To Eat Now, a wonderful collection of warming and sustaining autumn/winter dishes - you must try the Pork Anchovies and Olives on Polenta.  In fiction I have just finished The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella - fascinating mix of colonialist trading, the rise of the suffragette movement and a love story.

What's your hot tip for our next read?

The next thing to eat from will be Oliver Peyton's The National Cookbook - even if you don't cook, buy it for the wonderful reproductions from the National Gallery collection mixed with superb food photography. But do try to cook from it, for it is a wonderful mix of seasonally inspired British cooking.

Which up-and-coming authors should we watch out for?

Elisa Beynon - who won the Food Illustrated competition for food writing - will have The Vicar's Wife's Cookbook out soon and it looks to be amazing. Also watch for Rosie Lovell and Jun Tanaka.

What's your favourite book about London?

Peter Ackroyd, who makes a city a character - I guess I should say London but really I prefer Chatterton.

If you were a book, which would you be?

If I were a cookbook I'd be Nigel Slater's Appetite - greedy and discursive, the recipes range about but able to deliver great food.

Independent bookshops: the future?

We live in hope and spit three times each morning in the direction of Amazon!

Books for Cooks, 4 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill. Images author's own. Know a good bookshop? Let us know on tips (@) londonist.com.

Last Updated 10 March 2009