The death of the bookshop
It doesn't take a genius to realise that physical bookshops are in a rum state. The inexorable rise of the e-book has gouged huge holes in a business model manifestly unsuited to a digital world.
The implosion of Borders (a chain so big it went bust not one, two but three times!) has been the highest profile example. Waterstone's decision to stock the Kindle is, depending on how you see it, the latest example of corporate hara-kiri, or an admission of the inevitable.
The cookbook-lover in me is profoundly depressed by these developments. A good cookbook is a trove to be treasured, not just content to be licenced. However the Wall St technology analyst in me tells me that you can't fight the future. Much as a love a good bookshop I suspect that in the long run the majority of them are toast.
So I say, enjoy it while it lasts.
London's best cookbook shop (and its not the one in Notting Hill)
London's Foyle's bookshop is just such a treasure. Sprawling across a large block on the Charing Cross Road, it was long renowned for its boozy literary lunches and idiosyncratic management practices. Fiction books were bizarrely arranged by publisher which made it impossible to find anything (if Kafka did libraries...). Then there was the Stalinist teller system where you took your book to the counter, were given a ticket to take to a separate booth to render payment, and then had to return to the counter to collect your goods (ironically it didn't help, given large financial discrepancies were later discovered the accounts). For many years the store's refusal to move with the times seemed to condemn it to a slow death in the face of faster-moving rivals like Dillons and Borders.
Happily in the last ten years the grand dame has enjoyed something of a renaissance. While the Borders opposite has long self-combusted, a revamped Foyle's sales serenely on. The lifts may be a bit ratty and the floor plan slightly confusing, but plans to move up the road to an expansive new site bode well for the future.
Best of all, their cookery department is by far the best in London. That didn't always used to be the case. Back in the day Borders could out-muscle them if you were in search of imported US editions, and Notting Hill specialist Books for Cooks was the go-to place for obscure French volumes. However Borders is now gone and I last time I was at BfC the selection seemed oh so tame.
|Sooo many cookbooks... My head is already getting giddy...|
In contrast the selection at Foyles is expansive and exciting. So I last week I thought I'd take a trip armed with my camera and a notebook and gut-and-fillet their current inventory. It's a good time of year as publishers roll out their new lists, peacock-like, for the Christmas rush. In no apparent order, here's what I came across:
Note - this is just a subjective flick through the books on show. Its not a definitive review of anything. I'm probably wrong on most of them. Not all of them are new (especially the ones from the second hand section!). It's just a look at the books that caught my eye. Nothing more.
his previous two books rather than a new volume (I've a feeling this is a reprint of the expanded US version). So a bit of a cash-in from old Ferg, but worthwhile if you don't have the originals.
blogged about this one before - the reprint has now happily arrived. It's got the recipe for the pigs trotter and the salmon confit. 'Nuff said.
yummy congee in thirty!)
As blogged about before, Naomi's first solo effort since the end of her partnership with Jeffrey Alford. Versus their previous books I think its more recipe driven. Tellingly in the acknowledgements she thanks their children but nary a mention for poor Jeffrey, so I guess (sadly) we're unlikely to see them writing together again.
Shanghai-based chef. Most Haute-Asian Fusion (HAF) books are basically French cuisine with soy-sauce. Jereme stays truer to his Chinese roots, while still adding the obligatory dash of truffle and foie gras. Well work seeking out.
Blanc-Mange (the original food-science-molecular-inspired-chefbook - written years before Heston came on the scene), a French version of Fernand Point's landmark Ma Gastronomie, and a copy of Patricia Well's brilliant Robuchon-for-the-masses book Cuisine Actuelle. The catch is that unlike most second-hand places, Foyle's prices are extremely keen. Memories for example is sixty five quid which is hard to swallow when the reprint is available on the next shelf for less than half that.
innovative method for no-knead bread not only kicked off a baking revolution, it seems to have kicked off a mini-genre too. TBH Dunaway's promise of no-knead artisan bread in 90 minutes sounds too good to be true - I'd probably stick to Lahey's original work.
Offal: The Fifth Quarter etc.). Written by the team who produced the wonderful iconoclastic Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes a few years back, so worth a look.
Also don't forget that Foyle's also has a wide range of food-related periodics, including Momofuku's bleeding-edge Lucky Peach (and before you ask they don't have issue 1 in stock, only 2, 3 and 4), the UK's Fire and Knives, Gastronomica, a new one called The Gourmand, the Proceedings from the last couple of Oxford Symposiums on Food and Cookery and the house journal of every self-respecting wine snob, World of Fine Wine.
In summary a great selection. The one's that stood out for me were the Japanese Farm Kitchen book and the Sommelier volume - both books I had no idea about before I stumbled into Foyles. I'm sad that when the physical bookshop does go the way of the dodo I shall miss these sort of opportunities (or at least have fewer places to seek them out). But let's just enjoy it while it lasts!