I don't think calling Cook and Book a shop, a cafe or a combination of the two quite does it justice. It's divided into two separate 'blocks', both of which are a series of interconnecting rooms, each one with distinctive decor and a particular genre of books on sale: the music section, with an impressive vinyl collection, that doubles as a bar and the cosy English books room were particular highlights. Most include tables and chairs set for eating and drinking (we also found a couple of private dining 'spaces' amid all this, including one in a repurposed caravan) and the staff do a pretty good job of keeping an eye on their widely-spaced customers.
It's easy to spend an hour or two wandering from room to room, but for lunch we ended up in Block A (Block B has a similar if not identical menu, but unlike A serves brunch on Sundays). I was surprised by how large the menu was, which must put pressure on what can't be an enormous kitchen, and by its eclectic nature: alongside Asian- and Italian-themed soups and salads are traditional Belgian favourites like meatballs and heavy steak dishes. Although to me this didn't quite sit with the quirky but precise design of the different rooms, what we ate generally did.
A 'Gargamel' (would I have ordered it if I'd known it's named after the Smurfs' mortal enemy? Probably), i.e. brie, pears, almonds and honey on toast (9.50E), was in most respects an impressive creation. The cheese had been carefully sliced to cover the bread fully and grilled to achieve just the right balance of melt and solidity, and came with a small but perfectly formed salad in a glass. I've just realised now, though, that there was no pear in evidence, which is odd as everything else about the dish suggested attention to detail. A Caesar salad (12E) arrived looking a lot more 'integrated' than normal, with all the components carefully cut to size and tossed together. The croutons were especially large and crunchy and the dressing especially tasty.
We then shared what was termed roast fig shortbread (sablé - 7.50E); this wasn't exactly shortbread in the British sense, but a bakery in any country need not have been ashamed of it. Sticky figs were encased in a thin layer of extremely sweet dough, with an intriguing layer of what I thought was lime jelly between the fruit and the biscuit. Not something for the non-sweet toothed, but the ice cream went a long way towards cutting through the sugar.
Less good was the strange payment system which means you are issued with a receipt for drinks but not food when you order, and then have to take it to one of the main tills to settle up (still without an itemised food bill, although I assume they would have given us one if we'd asked). Perhaps this is because of the odd layout, but there must be a better way. We also noticed that many of the handy spray bottles of olive oil on the tables went out of date two years ago, although we charitably decided that they'd probably been refilled more recently, and the service was fine and efficient but not especially friendly. These niggles meant that I wasn't completely won over by Cook and Book, but I have to say that its well-crafted combination of design, food and books is hard to beat.
1 place du Temps Libre