Idées Fixes of the Week

John Kay: Ralph Rylance (1813)

The British Library has today published a new edition of the 1815 Epicure’s Almanack, the first ever ‘good food guide’ to London. Listing some 650 eating houses, taverns, coffee houses, and inns, the original Almanack was the work of Ralph Rylance, an aspiring poet and dramatist. This new edition, edited by Janet Ing Freeman, presents his original text together with commentary on many of the establishments and on the wider subject of eating and drinking in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Fewer than 30 copies of the original book are recorded in libraries today. It was never continued nor reprinted, and lack of public enthusiasm for the guide meant that several hundred unsold copies were destroyed two years after publication. Nonetheless, scholars continue to refer to it for descriptions such as that of London’s first Indian restaurant, the Hindostanee Coffee House in Marylebone, where all the dishes were ‘dressed with curry-powder and the best spices of Arabia’, and a room was set apart for ‘smoking from hookahs with oriental herbs’.

Rylance reviewed the eateries and their menus single-handedly and on foot. His book provides an excellent contemporary view of an important aspect of Regency London life, and gives a glimpse of a bygone city, in which the oysterman at the Cock Tavern in Fleet Street busily opens shells ‘with the dexterity of a squirrel’ and more elegant eating houses display their wares in the window, including the ‘fine, lively, amiable turtle’ shortly to appear on the menu.


The Munch exhibition is exemplary, breathtaking.


Not that I’m saying anything
Richard Price

Not that I’m saying anything
at least, I’m more speaking just to be hearing, answering
to ask if reply-to-reply just might (not knowing)
perpetuate this pulse-on-pulse to-ing and fro-ing,
as if here, in your here-and-now, is best brimmingness,
breathless, beyond fondness, found.

Hard dream, extreme astound!
Death the sky, death the ground. Yet,
we’re coming around.
We’ve been laughed alive,
paired-up – for the dive – bound –
to the vast unbound.

Let’s swim – in liquid sound, luxuriate
in while, in whim in … flirt and secret flout,
It’s not too late. Let doubts leave. For trying out loud
lets improvise our intimate lives, perfect … an intricate duet.
Let’s retrieve, in the whelm, in the depth,
kindness of touch – and, say, say this much:
we’ll plan to play, to enjoy, stronger than belief, full sweet
‘nothing’ – if such pleasure (a kiss the gentlest of decrees)
elicits your delicate, illicit, please.


Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello are old friends and cello is the instrument closest to my heart. Pablo Casals is long my preferred cellist but Mischa Maisky could easily challenge that preference.


I’m so restless, unable to settle on a book, switching between Deleuze and Miéville, old copies of the TLS, the latest White Review and that rathole, Twitter.

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