A Pike in the Basement – Book Review

A Pike in the Basement
Book Review

Title: A Pike in the Basement
Author: Simon Loftus
Publisher: Tales of a Hungry Traveller
Pages: 144
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0 907871 24 0

Once in a while, a book comes along that is so whimsically wonderful that you want to slowly devour it like fine wine. This is perhaps a fitting analogy for Loftus’ delightful book which effortlessly blends cookery and travel into a charming book. From frozen oranges in Asia Minor to catfish in Tennessee, Loftus is bent on one thing (and ready to travel extensively to find it): enjoyment and ambience in dining. He goes about this with a sense of dignity and humour that most writers could only dream of achieving.

The sixteen essays, which are gathered here in an eclectic way, lead us to believe that Mr. Loftus would be the most genial of travelling or dining companions. He is erudite, witty, and writes exceptionally well. Each essay ends with a short recipe – most of which leave the reader salivating. This, as I found out the hard way, is definitely not the type of book to read on a long-haul flight.

Apart from a general, and all embracing love of life and the eternal quest for good food, the essays share no common theme. Subjects as diverse as pigs and the difficulty in finding hot food in Greece are covered with panache. Each paragraph, like a fine wine, needs to be savoured and it’s hard to believe that Mr. Loftus could ever write a sentence which isn’t beguiling. This book, without a doubt, is utterly charming. In his hands, freshly baked unleavened bread in a Teheran bakery at midnight, slightly salty, becomes as mouth-watering as white truffles shaved thinly over pasta in Piedmont whilst the exertions of travel transform a simple omelette in France into a harvest feast, and give tea and fried eggs in Pakistan a hitherto unobserved exoticism. The text is further enhanced by the wonderful engravings by Jonathan Gibbs.

However, the real charm of this book lies not in its heart-warming descriptions, or the sure knowledge that Mr Loftus’ view of the world is unique and humbling but in its sheer durability. Not only have I read and re-read some of the wonderfully poetic descriptions (the essay The Midnight Bakery is especially lyrical) time and time again but the book has become a regular feature in my kitchen.

This, quite simply, is my favourite book of 2004.

The book can be bought from those nice people at Eland.

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