For almost 31 years, Exclusive Books has been the go-to space for book lovers. The Social Kitchen & Bar in Hyde Park Corner, which until very recently was about 600m² of parking space, is a natural juxtaposition of two important aspects: the need for physical nourishment and the need for intellectual nourishment.
Taking into account the number of feet coming in and out of the bookstore daily, Exclusive Books Group CEO Benjamin Trisk wanted to create an environment where people already in the store, whether there for a cup of coffee or to use it as a workstation, could stick around for lunch or dinner. For him it was important to have this as a public space with a beautiful design. “Beautiful design sells things,” he explains.
Another thing he wanted was to make books sexy again, and having been open for only a few months, The Social Kitchen & Bar has contributed to a significant increase in book sales for the store. The design of the shop, a collaboration between Trisk and genius design couple Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, has an industrial and almost imperfect feel.
This is reflected in the eclectic interior, from the sublime tiling, which is perfectly fitted, to the cracked white Johnson tiles filled with gold leaf, placed irregularly around the bar counter and the coffee station in the main bookstore. There is also a green couch bought on auction that sits next to a huge fireplace with a collection of books built into its frame. With the books seeping into both sections, you can’t quite tell where the restaurant ends and the bookstore starts. Trisk was also inspired by his own comforting memories around food.
“I remember as a child sitting at my mother’s table, using my fingers to clean the cake bowl when she was baking.” A white metal table exactly like the one his mother used also sits in the restaurant. The open kitchen, headed by acclaimed Australian chef Russell Armstrong, formerly based in Brisbane, is a wonder to watch. The Josper, a state-of-the-art charcoal oven from Spain, takes pride of place among the cooking utensils.
Being one of only a few in the country, it works solely on ash, giving the food its smoky taste. Trisk’s personal favourites off the tapas inspired menu include the lamb, which comes out of the Josper, the cold-pressed tomatoes, which he describes as being “very digestible”, as well as the goose liver pâté with sherry foam. While it is not quite tapas Spanish-style, Armstrong and his team make the kind of dishes that encourage a communal sense of sharing.
As he is surrounded by books and literature, one is naturally curious about the books on Trisk’s radar. He says he is currently devouring Simon Goodman’s The Orpheus Clock, describing it as a “spine-tingling story”. The Lady from Danzig by Philip Kerr and Michela Wrong’s Borderlines are also on his reading list.
WHERE TO FIND EXCLUSIVE BOOKS HYDE PARK
Hyde Park Corner, Jan Smuts Ave and William Nicol Dr, Johannesburg. 011-325-4298.