Above the Bay of Angels
When Isabella Waverly enters service at fifteen to support her younger sister, she knows she will never regain the affluent status her family once held. But a chance accident causing the death of one Helen Barton brings Isabella the opportunity of a lifetime. As she comforts the dying woman, she is handed a letter―a recommendation for Helen to join the kitchen staff at Buckingham Palace. Isabella takes her responsibilities seriously. She is upstanding and ethical, but now that her sister is safely married, she decides to apply in Helen’s place, perhaps a forgivable lie as she’s also a very good cook.
Initially set to chopping vegetables, Bella’s talent reveals itself when she’s asked to make scones for the Queen, who apparently enjoys her food a great deal. Bella learns quickly under the tutelage of the pastry chef, and when the household removes to Nice, Bella, who speaks French, is sent in his place. At the new Excelsior Hôtel Regina, (built for Queen Victoria in 1895/7), she meets head chef Jean-Paul Lepin, and an attraction grows. She enjoys his guidance in purchasing fresh ingredients, but when a poisonous mushroom seems to cause a Royal’s death, Bella falls under suspicion and is in danger of having her background exposed.
I enjoyed this novel immensely, and it’s easy to see why Bowen is such a talented and popular novelist. She recreates her landscapes of ‘Palace’ and ‘Kitchen’ with great skill, and readers are drawn into the lives of the characters, as much is revealed even in the close quarters of the kitchen; these are the kinds of people we might easily meet and connect with, or otherwise dislike. A delightful way to learn more about food, its preparation and its presentation; and a tender love story.