The firetruck-red storefront of Books for Cooks, in the tony Notting Hill neighborhood of London—while hard to miss—reveals little of the culinary utopia that lies within. Step over the mosaic threshold, depicting a cheery chef balancing a soup tureen atop an open book, and follow the wafting aromas of lunch to find a bookstore with a small but full-sized test kitchen at the back.
Books for Cooks exclusively sells culinary books from around the world, and is first and foremost a bookstore. But they also test out recipes in-store from the cookbooks on display. Eric Treuille, a dapper Frenchman, co-owns the shop with his wife, Rosie Kindersley. Treuille is also the resident chef, and prepares lunch from one of the thousands of cookbooks on display. Tuesdays through Fridays, he serves a starter, a main dish, and dessert at the inflation-defying price of £7. A glass of wine costs an additional £3.
Lunch menus are posted daily on Twitter and on the shop’s blackboard, and vary depending on the whims and fancy of Treuille. “I never know until I turn up in the morning,” he says, “I don’t want to plan ahead.” Diners might want to plan ahead, though, considering the lines out the door and the fast-depleting variety of cakes on the counter.
A handful of lawn furniture and folding tables make up the seating area for diners. “We try to seat anybody anywhere on anything,” says Treuille. The thimble of a kitchen whips up such culinary magic as hasselback aubergine pie, tikka masala enchiladas, and BBQ pork with corn fritters. Not to mention desserts such as a nectarine caramel upside down cake and pineapple puffs, all sourced from the cookbook(s) of the day, displayed proudly on the counter.
Treuille has no idea if the test kitchen has any effect on book sales. “I don’t see it that way,” he says emphatically, “No, no, no. The test kitchen, for me, is to enjoy cooking. People who come to it, it’s like they’re coming to my house. It doesn’t matter if people buy a book or not. I don’t mix the two together. I just want people to come, have proper food, and enjoy it. It’s not commercial, I’m not running a restaurant. It’s different.”
The shop operates like most bookstores, hosting book launches for cookbook authors. But even in this, there is the special Books for Cooks touch—launches are accompanied by chefs cooking from the cookbook being celebrated, so attendees can actually taste what the book offers. The shop sells a plethora of books related to the culinary arts, including biographies, food history, foodie fiction, and books on nutrition, among others.
One of the signs at Books for Cooks reads, “Please ask before taking notes from the books.” One imagines intrepid home cooks and chefs-in-training meal-planning surreptitiously in the tight quarters of this cookbook shop, as they scarf down the day’s specials. But whether or not you’re inside to buy a book, or the plat du jour, this charming establishment is a culinary enthusiast’s dream come true.
Know Before You Go
The lunch counter runs from Tuesdays through Fridays, walk-in only. Food is served at noon, and only until the kitchen runs out of the day’s bill of fare. Veggie Tuesdays and Fish Fridays weekly.
There is usually a line to get in, and food for about 30 to 40 diners. Prepare to arrive early. This is a bookstore first, and “test kitchen” second. Please don’t expect hospitality akin to that at a typical restaurant or cafe. There is some outdoor seating in nice weather.