Paul Stewart, a renowned food writer, based in Edinburgh, is struggling to find peace to write his latest book on the ‘Philosophy of Food’ due to his chaotic lifestyle. He is delighted when his madcap cousin Chloe, who “tended to utter the first thing that came into her head and then wrap it up in philosophical language”, invites him to join her in the house she has rented for the summer, deep in the heart of the French countryside. Paul has recently broken up with his girlfriend who also happens to be his editor so wastes no time in accepting the offer and arrives in France prepared to work in an idyllic setting. All in the village of St Vincent de la Colline, however, is not as peaceful as it seems. They quickly settle in to a routine allowing Paul plenty time to write but his progress is slow and he starts to wonder whether his decision to write on ‘philosophy’ was a sound one.
St Vincent de la Colline is home to a bakery, a cafe and the renowned restaurant, popularly referred to as The Second Worst Restaurant in France. Chloe and Paul reserve a table to discover why it has such a reputation. The menu looks small but adequate but they quickly realise that the proprietor, Claude, is no chef. They decide to take it upon themselves to improve the restaurant with the help of Hugo, Claude’s nephew, who lives to create delicious, traditional, French cuisine. Paul subsequently changes his focus from writing about the philosophy of food to upgrading the village restaurant.
Alexander McCall Smith conjures up a typical village in France complete with an open air market selling delicious cheeses, the boulangerie selling fresh baguettes and croissants and with all the local gossip and the smell of freshly ground coffee emanating from cafes on the sidewalk. McCall Smith adds intrigue by interspersing the story with tales of Chloe’s five husbands, however, it is the conversations between Paul and Chloe which add richness to the narrative.
This book is a delightful, quick, easy summer read and leaves one wishing to holiday in France, find St Vincent de la Colline and sample the delicious local cuisine.