The Insider Tip: Books for Cooks in London
“The best cup of coffee in Notting Hill.” This is how, in an interview Rosie Kindersley and Eric Treuillé, define their Books for Cooks, a bookshop at 4 Blenheim Crescent, in the London borough of Notting Hill. My reaction to those words is immediate, and two questions arrives on my mind. The first: when can I organize a trip to taste this cup of coffee? The second: could it be that Rosie and Eric are a bit arrogant?
However, the last time I went in London, I took the subway to Ladbroke Grove. It would be more convenient to go down to Notting Hill, but it is Saturday morning and it would mean to make headway with elbows among the crowds of people who enjoy Portobello Market. Thus, I walked along Ladbroke Grove, then turned onto Blenheim Crescent. I remember the words of the two owners: honestly their description is a bit an unusual for a bookshop. And indeed, Books for Cooks is an unusual library. Beyond the bright red-painted door, there is a world of tall bookcases filled with books, large wooden tables arranged next to a living-looking leather sofa, where a couple of Londoners drunk steaming coffee by reading some pages of thick books.
What most draws my attention is the kitchen at the back of the shop, where aromas of coffee and freshly baked pastries come from. Little by little the place is filling up with people who may be looking for a quiet place from the confusion of the market stalls of Portobello Market, but I found a free table next to the counter where chocolate, raisin and cream cakes are exposed. I ordered a cup of the famous coffee and a walnut muffin. While waiting to be served, I do like the other customers around me: I take a book from one of the shelves and start to have a look through it. I am not too lucky: I god a book of food chemistry, so I turn the pages without paying attention, thinking instead about the formula of the success of this bookshop.
The history of Books for Cooks begins in 1983, when Heidi Lascelles, passionate about literature and cooking, decided to open a bookstore where love for food and books could meet to each other. She opens his shop in Notting Hill with an adjoining kitchen where she can try out the recipes of books. At the time Heidi did not have much experience in the kitchen, so she hires a series of chefs who in a few years become really famous in the world of gastronomy. Annie Bell was one of the first to cook from Books for Cooks, which was her launching pad for a successful career as a chef and food journalist. Another important name is Clarissa Dickson Wright, who for years led the Two Fat Ladies food program. Rosie Kindersley arrived in 1992, followed the following year by her husband, Eric Treuillé, wine and food expert.
My order is arrived and I must admit that the coffee is really good. I finish the muffin quickly, but I do not want to leave. There are no people waiting and watching me threatening trying to make me understand that I have to leave free the table. The girl who brought me coffee in the meantime is replacing the cakes with quiches and other savory dishes, and I take this opportunity to ask her some questions. She tells me that the menu changes daily, as do the books that inspire Eric in his daily culinary creations. So in the morning you can enter in the small shop, browse one of the many books and order a cup of coffee, a slice of cake or biscuits, while at lunch you can taste some of the dishes with meat or vegetables.
The lunchtime is behind the corner and the smell of onion soup and toasted bread invites me to stay a little longer. And then I would also like to try the famous flat bread of Books for Cooks. I do not dare to bother the girl who is now writing on the blackboard the dishes of the day, so I take a flyer that advertises the library and cooking classes, organized regularly. Here it is underlined the importance of experimentation, but above all the attention to raw materials, always locally sourced. For example, chicken, meat and eggs come from the organic farm of Rosie’s parents, Sheepdrove Organic Farm; vegetables and fruit are bought at the Portobello market, while spices come from the spice shop, across the street.
Browsing through the books behind me and waiting for the flat bread with olives, I discovered that there is a whole series of books that collects the Favorite Recipes from Books for Cooks: the first book, published in 1995 to collect the best recipes of Eric and Rosie, was followed in the following years by dozens of other books. Among the shelves are not only books of recipes: the store has in fact over 8.000 volumes about history, art, chemistry and sociology. The common thread is always the same: the passion for food. There is no catalog of available titles, because at the end of each week the shelves and tables are integrated with the latest news: often it happens that a book that was available until the day before is no longer found.
The slice of warm flat bread is excellent: thin, salty and tasty. In addition, it has the merit of making sure that a bit of arrogance that Eric and Rosie had added in the interview is forgiven instantly. On the other hand, the two found the perfect recipe for this place. Books for Cooks has succeeded in establishing itself and creating an activity that would be reductive to define only a coffee shop or a specialized bookstore. It is definitely a coffee shop and it is also a specialized bookshop, but the two aspects have been combined in a brilliant and original way. To find out, just move to another area of London, such as Piccadilly or Oxford Street, to find megastore bookcases with books on any subject, from gardening to metaphysics, and where you drink coffee and eat industrial scones in bars of some international chain . But this was not the purpose of Heidi, nor of Eric and Rosie: they deserve credit for having created a place where culture meets pleasure, and where you always breathe the air of home.
Where to Stay
The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences is located in the post district of Mayfair and it is an exclusive family run five star hotel of London which boasts an elegant independent personality. The new look of this exciting property is by British agency Kinnersley Kent Design which perfectly combines the spirit of the area, from the spectacular architectural lobby and lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows that give the impact of being in Green Park that it is situated opposite.
The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences offers to its guests a captivating and elegant retreat close to Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, Buckingham Palace and all the facilities like boutiques, bars, restaurants, musuems and so on of Mayfair neighborhood. It offers 132 rooms, 12 suites, 18 residences and The Penthouse Suite which takes pride in its individuality. The Michelin brothers, Christ and Jeff Galvin overseen the food and beverage area of the hotel, from breakfast to afternoon tea, from lunch to dinner but also private dining experiences and last but not least the 24/7 In Room Dining.
All the guests can get benefit of Spa facilities and gym. The latter provides strength training equipment and cardio machines to name a few. There’s also relaxation areas within the REN Spa. Children are so welcome at The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences because there’s a Children’s Concierge and many of the fully-serviced residences were designed with families in mind. Last but not least the Living Wall is a captivating vertical garden that goes from the street level to the 10th floor Penthouse.