Doctor Samuel Johnson famously said; ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’
As a Londoner I think he got it spot on, it is a great city, vibrant colourful and teeming with life and it has got better and better over the forty odd years that I have known it. The things to see and do have improved, as have the shops and especially the food. There are restaurants the equal of anywhere, casual cafés that remain little local secrets and gastro-temples with world-wide reputations. There are wine shops, food shops and delicatessens that keep Londoners supplied with good things to eat and drink. Some of them are famous to all of us, while others remain known only to the people who live in the part of London that it serves. That is the thing about London you see, it doesn’t really have just one centre, but is in reality a group of villages joined together and lots of enjoyment can be had exploring these mislaid corners of the UK’s capital.
So, if you are a foodie, how on earth do you keep track of all the best places in London to buy your wine and cheese? Other than heading off to the well known Harrods Food Hall, John Lewis’s Food Hall, Borough Market or Whole Food Market in South Kensington it isn’t always easy.
Well, now you can relax as help has arrived. Recently I have been telling you about some rather lovely books about wine and food that I think will make great presents for Christmas and here is another:
The London Cheese and Wine Guide
Published by Allegra at £11.95
Also available from Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones in the UK at between £9.10 and £11.95.
Even if you don’t want to buy any of the things they mention this is a beautiful little book whose contents cannot help but make your mouth water. The publishers claim that it is the ‘definitive guide to the best places for cheese and wine in London‘ and to me that is a very exciting prospect indeed. I love wine shops, book shops, food shops and cheese shops. Time spent rooting around in any of those is never time wasted and I have certainly become aware that London is home to more and more cheese merchants of late, I have just not known where many of them were. Now I can just flick through this guide, drool over the photographs and head off to wherever they recommended.
Even if you never use it to buy anything it is a lovely book to own, if you like cheese and wine that is. It is beautifully designed and feels strangely tactile and satisfying to hold while the photographs get me salivating every time I dip in.
The book is more of a guide for reference than one to read, although I have whiled away a few happy hours with it, and it is well laid out and easy to navigate your way around.
The first section deals with cheese, including how artisan cheese is made, followed by a chapter listing London’s best specialist cheese shops. They are each given a page with opening hours and contact details together with the owner’s name, an idea of how many cheeses they stock. There is a pricing index too as for each shop we are given an idea of the price they charge for Brie de Meaux, Mature Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Stilton.
It isn’t only cheese that goes with wine though, so the next chapter covers London’s best delicatessens in exactly the same way. Then just when you think the possibilities for buying artisan cheese must surely be exhausted you reach a section on London’s food markets. This brief chapter outlines the cheese specialists at Borough Market while a market directory and cheese trader grid tell you who sells good cheese in every London market.
We have now arrived at the mid-point of the book and it moves on to wine. An excellent chapter gives specialist wine merchants similar treatment to the cheese shops, some of them are pretty well known, but many are tucked away and might not have sprung to mind before. Then just to give even more food for thought, this is followed by a really exciting chapter on London wine bars and one on restaurants who offer a particularly good selection of cheese and wine.
Then just when you are feeling utterly stuffed they provide a section on the correct way to taste cheese and how to pair cheese with wine – which is a lot more difficult than most people imagine.
Any Londoner, or visitor armed with this book, will now be able to track down all these wonderful, but tucked away, little cheese and wine shops as well as the perfect places to enjoy cheese and wine together.
It’s not a big book, but it is bursting with lovely things and will give you, or the person you give it to, a great deal of pleasure.
Photographs by kind permission of Allegra.
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