At the weekend I popped into Brew on Northcote Road in Clapham for a coffee. Boy it’s good coffee, great taste, strong and a lovely bit of barista art on top. They do great brunch food too so it’s a good all-day place (their website has some lovely brunch pics). Cake wise I plumped for a carrot cake which was enormous and you could definitely share it with a friend. It was nice and moist but I thought it was lacking a wee bit of flavour, perhaps cinnamon. They also had a gigantic red velvet cake on display too. My friend tried a Lamington which I hadn’t come across before. It’s an Ozzie cake with sponge, a layer of chocolate and dessicated coconut covering it. It was a bit dry so I reckon you’d be better to stick to their other tray bakes and layer cakes. All in all the coffee made it worthwhile. I’d defo head back to try some more of their cake range and sample another brunch dish. Some other ladies were busy drinking prosecco with their cake so it’s a fun place for a late afternoon meet up before you hit the bars.
On Saturday I went for afternoon tea with my friend at Beas of Bloomsbury in St Pauls. We originally went a month ago for coffee and cake but hadn’t found the service very good. Having been in touch with Bea herself, we were invited back for afternoon tea to recreate first impressions. We were greeted with a table upstairs where all the afternoon teas take place and the table was set out with fresh baguette portions and a cake stand adorned with cupcakes, scones and mini cakes. I liked the lights which were teapot shaped – thought it was a fun touch to the atmosphere.
We were offered a selection of teas and coffees and iced water which came quickly. The food was very fresh and it was good to have baguettes rather than sandwiches to be a bit more substantial. Flavours included brie and ham, salami, and my friend had a soft cheese and veg one. It turned out my friend was cutting out sugar for Lent so she only tried a few bits of the afternoon tea. I, on the other hand tasted everything! I most enjoyed the millionaire shortbread square, nut and choc brownie and the pistachio macaron was to die for. The food was good quality and tasty. The only cake that let them down was the mini meringue which was a bit tough to bite in to. I wasn’t a massive fan of the homemade mango marshmellow because of the texture but thought it was something a bit different. There were so many other mini morsels to try that it didn’t matter too much if there was one you didn’t like. The scones were also fresh and broke in two easily and they went down a treat with strawberry jam and clotted cream. We had a lovely afternoon and really enjoyed it.
Couple of things to note: there are only four tables for coffee and cake downstairs in winter, double that capacity on sunny days. If you want to go for afternoon tea then you need to book by email in advance. Everything is made to order based on the number of afternoon teas that day – this is to reduce food wastage and keep the price of the afternoon tea more affordable – £17 for full afternoon tea which I do think is good value. However, because of this sandwiches aren’t on the menu at weekends for those not having afternoon tea, nor are scones. Beas of Bloomsbury are looking into what they offer customers who aren’t coming for afternoon tea so you never know this might change.
I would recommend the afternoon tea – it was a lovely atmosphere and great fresh food plus good service. Hopefully the service is mirrored downstairs from now on and if you’re only wanting cake and drinks anyway then it’s not a problem that sandwiches aren’t provided.
I am well over due an update to the blog so today is my attempt to kick start things and get back to my regular posting. After many weeks of working long hours I had to put the blog on the back burner but I was itching to get back to the baking and blogging. As part of National Novel writing month, my friend is brave enough to embark on writing a book for the first time. She has to write atleast 1,500 words a day for a month, the equivalent of over 50,000 words. I think it’s a great initiative because not only does it encourage people to start creative writing, but it envelopes their friends too. Hannah has initiated group chill out sessions where we can meet and write novels and journal entries, blog and read.
My suggestion for yesterday’s creative café was the Nordic Bakery on Golden Square in Soho. I had always wanted to give it a try and this seemed the perfect excuse. The industrial décor and low lighting is great for a chilled and dark Sunday afternoon. I opted for a cinnamon bun which is like a giant, tightly coiled croissant, filled with doughy goodness and lashings of cinnamon. It was crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside and just about gooey enough with oozing syrup. Other cakes on offer include tall sponge cakes marbled with chocolate (Tiger Cake) or orange and poppyseed or topped with caramelised almonds (Tosca cake). The cakes looked a bit dry which is why I opted for a bun but with a good cup of coffee I’m sure they would have been tasty. My friend had a gravalax and Nordic cheese sandwich on rye bread which she said was very tasty although rather minute for £4. If you want to recreate their recipes and other Nordic nibbles, you can buy the Nordic Bakery Cookbook for £15 from the café.
The staff were helpful although they needed to come round more often to clear all our cups and plates. I would recommend this café if you’re after a peaceful, lazy afternoon away from the hubbub of Regent St. Bizarrely, they started turning the lights down every 15 minutes! I was still there after 6pm and the really nice thing was how the atmosphere was really chilled and the staff were so nice they didn’t make any attempt to throw out their customers after closing time!
Last weekend for my birthday, I embarked on an afternoon tea with my girl mates at Cocomaya which is an artisan bakery and chocolatier in central London. I had tried out the bakery a few months earlier with my French friend and enjoyed the flourless chocolate cake, sitting outside in the warm sunshine. The afternoon tea was set in the chocolate shop next door to the bakery and it was adorned with plates of beautiful homemade chocolates, brightly wrapped chocolate bars and a cabinet full of trinkets and vintage china. It is a girl’s dream! The setting was perfect and we sat down to a variety of teas and coffees and water flavoured by blueberries, raspberries and flowers. My friends had rose tea, Darjeeling, good old breakfast tea and earl grey. I was brave enough to try tea for about the second time in my life and had assam chai tea which was bearable for the non-tea drinker!
First up was a selection of sandwiches with a difference – they used a dark ryebread which was very tasty although rather filling and heavy for an afternoon tea. The cream cheese and chilli, salmon and cucumber and ham and cheese sarnies were tasty. We didn’t eat too many though as we wanted to save ourselves for everything else to come. We also ate cheese rolls which were in Mary Berry’s words ‘scrummy’. The next course included a selection of three types of scones – fruit scones, chocolate drop scones with cranberries and plain scones. They were accompanied by homemade jam which I guessed was something like blackberry and damson jam plus clotted cream.
Then came a selection of about 10 mini cakes – some to half, some to have all to yourself. I couldn’t believe such a large selection of delights! Firm favourites included mini chocolate flourless cake, lemon and poppyseed mouthfuls, raspberry and creme patissiere cakes, fudge brownie and blackberry mini loaf. There were also mini banana loaf and mini marble cake slices. What a treat!
We were starting to fill up and had to go rather slowly. We opened pressies, took photos next to the chocolates and vintage china and smelt teas! It was lovely to take the afternoon at a really leisurely pace and savour every mouthful. Cocomaya let us take little boxes home of all the cakes we couldn’t eat at the time so the afternoon tea memories carried on into the weekend….
For £25 per person I think this was one of the best afternoon teas I’ve had – the atmosphere was fabulous, the food generous and varied and the service patient and not intrusive. When I say patient – we asked if I could smell lots of different teas before I plumped for the assam chai and our waiter also took lots of piccies of us too! It can sometimes be hard to get through to them on the phone but I can only think they’re putting the finishing touches on their cakes. It’s well worth persevering and booking that afternoon tea of yours.
Special thanks go to my friend Hannah Carmichael for taking the amazing photos in this post. You can view more of her work at: http://picasaweb.google.com/hannie20
Last night, I visited the Hummingbird Bakery on Old Brompton Road (nearest tube is South Kensington). I went there with a friend back in February but had poor customer service and emailed the bakery to let them know I had been disappointed. Their customer services team were very good, made some changes, apologised and offered me and my friend complimentary cupcakes and coffee. We decided to give it a shot yesterday and I had a red velvet cupcake and my friend had a choc chip cheesecake cupcake (hard to say!). I thought the icing on my cupcake was delicious but the sponge was rather dry. I tried a bit of my friend’s and hers was nice and fresh and she really enjoyed it. It was a little sweet for me but then that’s what cupcakes are all about! The staff were OK but still slow to clear tables and bring drinks. On a Monday evening this could definitely have been a bit swifter. I’d like to return for take-out to keep trying their different cupcakes and cakes but I still think the ambiance of the cafe is missing that bit of sparkle.
I recently visited Paris for the very first time and as part of my trip, I made it my quest to sniff out a cupcake shop and devour raspberry tarts and try my first Parisian macaron. First up, I stumbled across a cupcake shop not far from the Sacré Coeur called Miss Cupcake (nearest metro station is Abesses). I chatted to the two ladies in there and bought a lovely looking lemon cupcake with yellow edible glitter. Whilst admiring the view from the Sacre Coeur I took this pic of the cupcake which came in a very handy portable cupcake container. The sponge melted in your mouth and I loved the amount of icing. As it was a lemon cupcake I think it could do with a little bit more lemon juice to make it really lemony.
Next up was this corker of a raspberry tart in Les Deux Magots in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area. The crème anglaise was yummy and the raspberries were plump and delicious. I did have one other raspberry tart which was superior in fact. It was from La Durée and I devoured it on the Eurostar home but I couldn’t get a snap of it with flash as everyone was fast asleep!
Finally, I spent a good 20 minutes queuing up for some of these beauties in La Durée. I chose vanilla, blackcurrant, caramel, red berries and chocolate. Six of these will set you back around eight euros. The intensity of flavour was incredible. I loved the blackcurrant and caramel ones. My friend told me that Pierre Hermé (here’s his chocolate macaron recipe) sells delicious ones near le Jardin des Tuileries but I didn’t get time to pop in there. I will have to save that for my next culinary visit to Paris! According to the Daily Telegraph, his book ‘Macaron’ should be publishing this autumn in English so I will be keeping my eyes peeled for that! I’ve done a bit of digging but can’t find it on sale yet so the mystery continues…Finally, if you fancy reading a bit more about macarons and Pierre Hermé, I enjoyed reading He-Eats’ blog post.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I re-visited the Wallace Restaurant in the Wallace Collection for a second afternoon tea. (You can read about the first review here). This time we tried the Parisian afternoon tea priced at £24.50. Unfortunately the first time we visited we hadn’t experienced timely service and so the restaurant manager invited us back for complimentary champagne and afternoon tea. We were greeted with two very attentive waiters, one for each of us to push our chairs in! My friend is a vegeterian so I would recommend asking for the English afternoon tea rather than the Parisian one if you are too. The waiter was happy to adapt the afternoon tea though and brought my friend a small selection of cheeses with some grapes. In the meantime, I tucked into foie gras, goose pate and salmon gravalax with melba toasts. All were quite tasty but the goose rilette was rather heavy as you would expect. On to the cakes, the best bit clearly! There were six in total. I must admit I wasn’t blown away by the majority of them – there was a chocolate raspberry fancy on a lollipop, a treacle tart slice with a hint of orange, a lemon tart slice which I enjoyed the most and a couple of other cakey treats. From a cake perspective, whilst you couldn’t criticise quantity, having now sampled the English and the Parisian afternoon tea, I would actually choose the English one. The atmosphere is very serene in the Wallace Restaurant, especially on a sunny afternoon and the perfect compliment for me would be a large scone with lashings of raspberry jam. I actually think I would get just as much enjoyment from having a scone there than splashing out more cash on the full afternoon tea works. If you’ve had an afternoon tea at the Wallace Restaurant, I’d be interested to hear your verdict on it.
Today I wandered the streets around Primrose Hill and went to the Primrose Bakery cafe on Gloucester Road. I have been to the Covent Garden branch many times but was curious to see the original one and see how they compared. The Primrose Hill one is a little rougher round the edges in the nicest possible of ways. It is on a very quiet street tucked away. As soon as we walked in the door, my friend noticed that the smell of cupcakes was exactly the same as the Covent Garden one and I agreed. All the tables were taken but we didn’t want to rush our cupcake and get a takeaway so we hung out by the cupcake gifts, recipe books and cards. Eventually we landed a table! I chose a lemon cupcake and my friend had the vanilla frosted one with yellow icing and multi-coloured confetti. See here for their range of cupcakes. Mine was delicious – the sponge was a teensy bit dry but there was so much yummy lemony frosting that it all worked out. They have lots of Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar magazines for you to browse over whilst you devour your cupcake slowly. I loved the daffodils in jugs on the table – added a touch of spring on a cold May day and the place feels homely. Whenever I go to Primrose Hill, I’ll definitely be making an excuse to detour via Gloucester Road…
Having returned from a fabulous ski trip in France, I decided I needed to wean myself off French food very slowly. Today I popped into Coin de Paris, a little French cafe in Richmond, London, opposite Waterstones book store.
Whilst in France, I sampled the most delicious food, most of which was savoury – fondue, tarteflette, and a galette with goats cheese, salad and a fried egg on top (actually that was in Switzerland). Sweet tooth wise, I frequented the local bakery pretty much every day and my favourite new discovery are palmiers with raspberry jam.
They were to die for with morning coffee. I have to find somewhere in London which makes them!
Although not greeted with the friendliest of welcomes at Coin de Paris (perhaps the language barrier) my mocha was very good and I had a decent croque monsieur. A little bit of salad on the side with the croque monsieurs and paninis would not go a miss. I did have to ask for the table to be wiped though and we moved the dirty crockery from the table before us. Upstairs has a pleasant seating area and on a sunny afternoon like today, the room feels airy and light.
For dessert, I walked up the hill to Caffe Paola – an Italian cafe. I chose a pecan tart but was tempted by the lemon tart and various other white chocolate gooey squares. Although I promised myself I would only eat half and save the other half for after dinner, I found myself devouring the whole thing in a matter of minutes. I will have to go back to try the lunch.
For now I will have to resort to my boring cereal for breakfast, lest I put on any more pastry pounds from eating croissants every day, but I am now on the quest for raspberry palmiers! If anyone knows where they sell good ones, please let me know! I doubt I could make any which would match the ones I ate in France.