‘Spotted Dick, s’il vous plait?”

Start a restaurant serving English cuisine in Lyons? Are you crazy? C’est pas possible!

Well, it was possible at least at the time of the book’s publication. Tom Higgins and his wife fell in love with food and France and decided to start a restaurant in Lyons which served (surprise!) English food. At the time, the French had (and presumably still do) have what might most politely be called an abysmal opinion of English culture and cuisine, and everyone to whom Higgins and his wife spoke told them both not to bother: they might as well throw money away as start an English restaurant anywhere in France, much less in a cuisine Mecca such as Lyons.

Eight years in, when the book was published, they were in fact making a go of it and had just expanded to the miniscule property backing up to theirs; they’d simply knocked out the back wall, joined the two kitchens and created a dining room of equally petite dimensions to the one they’d been running already…but around on the other side of the building. This was proving to be convenient as structurally the two kitchens were contiguous, so they could share staff, supplies and cookware, but the restaurant spaces didn’t appear to be connected in any way from the outside and from the customers’ perspective. I’m not sure if the restaurant(s) is still there; the book came out in 1994–but I’d like to think that somewhere out there, there is in fact someone who dreamed a foolish dream and actually managed to create a business that lasted as long as this. (I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but I think they boil down to most businesses (especially restaurants run by two amateurs) tend to fail within the first year, and of the survivors, the proprietors pack it in as a bad job after not too very long.)

Who might like this one? I’d suggest it to anyone who found Anthony Bourdain a bit snarky or Peter Mayle too complicated. It’s a simple lightweight book, glossing over much of the frustrations of running a small restaurant, but it’s enjoyable. I do recommend this one as beach reading for foodies.


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