Gerhard Jenne delights in the sheer variety of London’ patisserie venues, ranging from classic and traditionalist to a minimalist vision of the future
Handing out tasty morsels of our brownies, outside our store on Borough Market, did make me feel like the Pied Piper last Sunday. It wasn’t just a case of feeding the masses. The tasters were just the hook, I still had to get them over the threshold of ‘Cake Heaven’ and, with a little bit of charm and spiel about what’s in store, my conversion rate got better and customer numbers and spend were pleasingly up by closing time.
It was a great opportunity to directly connect with customers; a few locals, an international bunch of tourists, but also a noticeably large number of British visitors. It is fascinating how London’s food scene is now such a magnet and contributes greatly to London’s economy and reputation. With its polyglot menus, it’s quite possible to eat your way around the globe without the need to ever catch a flight.
Bakeries and cake shops are also quite diverse these days - not just their menus, but also their presentation style - and are housed in unique and individually designed shops. Anyone visiting London will find plenty of inspiration.
A stroll through Marylebone got my nostrils excited long before I could tell where the fresh baking smells came from. A tempting cloud of heavenly cinnamon then led me round a corner to a branch of the Nordic Bakery. More café than shop, its interior is as dark as a Scandinavian forest. What stands out is a list of expertly made coffees and a tight menu of breads and patisserie, with the famous Swedish cinnamon bun taking centre stage.
A more staid affair is one of the oldest outlets of mega-chain Patisserie Valerie. The shop-fit is classic, a little formulaic and worn, like many cake shops on the Continent whose origin is rooted mid-20th century. The cakes are visually stimulating, with lots of fresh fruit and cream, pleasing those in search of traditional French patisserie.
Higher up, in another stratosphere altogether, is a branch of Parisian patisserie ‘La Patisserie des Rêves’. From the outside, at first glance, it could be mistaken for an expensive watch shop, but this is the brave new world of French patisserie and if the Starship Enterprise were ever to feature a shopping mall, a concession of ‘LPDR’ would be a fitting place for the crew to fulfil their celestial cake dreams.
High art patisserie
It’s a bold and daring departure from the rough-and-tumble of altarpiece displays that work so well with their show of cascading abundance. Central to the small store is a tiered circular display table that features temperature-controlled glass domes. Under each dome resides one of pastry chef Philippe Conticini’s award-winning confections. Once you have made your selection, an immaculately dressed assistant disappears behind a door to fill your box from stock held out of sight.
This is patisserie in its highest form, in sophistication as well as in price. An individual Lemon Meringue Tart, with a surprise layer of hazelnut sponge under the lemon curd retails at £5.40; a minimalist, white square of Vanilla Grand Cru is a cool £5.90.
Rents in this part of the world cannot be cheap and the packaging was utterly sophisticated and looked expensive. If you are used to Marylebone, the prices are probably quite normal, and a second branch is coming to Kensington, clearly indicating that there is a market for such refined high art.
There is also a range of Viennoiserie and travel cakes and it might have been wiser to make my selection from those, as the fresh patisserie didn’t travel very well. The very soft meringue had slid off and the Vanilla Grand Cru had lost part of its perfect white veneer by the time I got disgorged a few stops down the line from Baker Street. Still, they all tasted delicious. Next time I’ll have them beamed to Waterloo.