Gerhard Jenne makes a brief sojourn to Glasgow and samples some of the city’s bakery delights
Apart from a brief stopover on my way to my honeymoon in the Outer Hebrides, I haven’t been to Glasgow properly since it was the City of Culture in 1990. Right now it’s back in the news as it gears up for the Commonwealth Games, taking place at the end of July. Helped by the fact that friends are now living there too, it seemed a fitting moment to pay a visit again.
Last time, I went to see the magnificent Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Willow Tea Room, but was more impressed with the architecture than the cakes. It did inspire me, though, as I also love the idea of giving customers more than just a short-lived cookie-cutter interior. In that tradition, I myself have employed architects to help design our stores and, with their design, tried to reflect what we hope to bring to the table with our cakes and bakes – craftsmanship, quality and consistency.
My other memory is of a bakery window that showed a full display of the most monochrome-looking pastries I had ever seen. Everything was of a pasty beige tinge, with only the occasional splash of thick white fondant and a bright red glacé cherry to break up the monotony. This time it was surely going to be different. While I was a proper tourist last time, I had the benefit of said friends with insider knowledge this time round.
Bakery47 was the name on everyone’s lips. This small business was set up by Sam and Anna Luntley and provides sourdough and soda breads, as well as some lip-smackingly gorgeous cakes and sweet treats. Currently, Bakery47 only supplies other stores with their produce or caters for events and companies, although we heard rumours of them looking for their own space. It was a West End shop ‘Veldt’, a café and food shop celebrating the best Scottish and Afrikaans food, where we tried Bakery47’s small loaf cakes, topped with a generous layer of light frosting, from maple & pecan to pistachio rose buttercream and banana white chocolate coconut. They were all very moist bakes, with a thick layer of light marshmallowy frosting and a sprinkling of nuts or fruit to complement the flavours – far more scintillating than the offerings of years gone by.
Sometimes you don’t have to cross borders or bridge continents to experience something new. At Veldt I also had my first ever Rooibos Cappuccino. Very fine ground redbush tea is made into an espresso-style shot and topped with foamy milk and a dusting of cinnamon. The flavours worked really well together. If it catches on – you read it here first!
In the same up-and-coming part of Glasgow, we also visited the Cottonrake Bakery. The Victorians sure knew how to build great cities fitted with fantastic shop premises: Cottonrake’s occupies a corner that cannot measure much more than 6 x 6 metres but is fabulously tall, with big windows letting in the light. I felt it was a textbook example of what a small independent neighbourhood bakery should be all about: passionately made products sold in space oozing with atmosphere. The baker and his assistant were on full view as they put their handmade sourdoughs breads in their small deck oven and lined the tartlet tins for their fine line of French-inspired patisserie: almond pear tarts, chocolate raspberry, lemon meringue. Their tasty sausage rolls celebrated the best of Scotland and were unique, with a filling made from Strathblane pork shoulder and Stornoway Black Pudding. Business was brisk and anyone thinking of setting up on their own should take a look. Just perch on one of the small window seat stools, sip an expertly-made flat white and watch it all play out in front of you.
A quick Twitter appeal resulted in me getting lots of other hot tips of where to enjoy cake, from ‘Once upon a Tart’ to ‘The Butterfly and the Pig’. Even for a trained cake-scoffer like me, there’s only so much cake one can eat and time was running out too. Perhaps I won’t wait for another two decades before my next visit.
While sporting triumphs might be on the horizon, it appears Glasgow’s independent bakers and tea rooms have already earned their laurels. Go and have a wee taste. There has never been a better time.