Guest blog: London’s best bookshops

Best known for her gorgeous foodie blog, come con ella, Mehrunnisa Yusuf changes tact for Completely London and scours the Capital for its finest bookshops…

In Pakistan where I grew up, there was no concept of chain bookstores. Instead my mother and I would frequent a combination of old and independent bookshops. I came to adopt a similar approach when I moved to London. The age of the e-reader has reinforced my love for the tactile pleasure of reading and is perhaps the reason why I frequent bookshops even more.

Bloomsbury is London’s literary quarter and home to two of my favourite bookshops, the London Review of Books and Skoob. The latter was a discovery during my student years. Back then it used to be on the ground floor of the Brunswick Centre (before it was glammed up). Now it is basement treasure trove of used and second hand books. My version of such books would be to say that they are loved and shared. A decade on, I still visit the bookshop and never emerge empty handed.

The London Review of Books shop was established in 2003 and I discovered this gem in 2007. My friend and I wrote large parts of our MSc dissertations in its Cake Shop. The current affairs section includes many of the contemporary books that I used to supplement my knowledge on human rights. Post-graduation I returned to renew my love for fiction and food writing both of which are very well served. The mainstay of the bookshop are a number of tables where new, signed and bookseller’s choice books are propped up for display.

Books for Cooks is also a mecca for those who love printed word on food. This tiny space with floor to ceiling shelves has books on cuisine from all around the world. The narrow space makes it a bit tricky to navigate, but the discomfort is a small price to pay for the choice of food reading. The rear end of the Bookshop is home to its cafe, which will satisfy both your sweet and savoury desires. The latter is inevitable after you have leafed through the books. I recall a chocolate cake moistened with sour cream with a peanut frosting and on a cold crisp day, a steaming bowl of haddock chowder.

My last two favourites are Primrose Hill Books and Clerkenwell Tales. Primrose Hill Books is situated in a Victorian terrace. I first chanced upon it when I came to Primrose Hill to take in a panorama of my city in the years that I was not living in it. On my way back I walked the length of Regent’s Park Road and instantly took took to the bookshop. It has an excellent collection of new titles displayed standing up on a table inside. Outside there is a rack of second-hand books.

Similarly, I discovered Clerkenwell Tales whilst exploring Exmouth Market after I moved to Islington. This bookshop describes itself as one run by a book lover for book lovers. It is an apt description as the books here have a feel of being curated. I often turn to Clerkenwell Tales when I need advice for books as gifts. The staff are always happy to give your their thoughts and recommendations once you tell them a little about who the book is for and what the occasion is.

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