I’m staying with a friend, Richard, in London for a few days this week and took the opportunity to plan a two day (Tuesday and Wednesday) cake tour to occupy my days while my husband and Richard nerded out about incomprehensible computer things. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, a tube strike was announced for the Wednesday. So, I rearranged my neatly scheduled days, and referenced my printed, annotated maps (I may have gotten a little bit too excited about this trip) and decided to cram as much into one day as I possibly could. This meant that some of the outlying bakeries had to be put aside for the next visit, but I figured I could probably get a remarkable amount done centred around only two tube stops. Here follows the chronicles of my adventures in London.
My adventures in London – The department stores
The was no point starting too early, as no respectable bakery or apparently London department store opens before 10.00. So I had a leisurely cup of tea and took the tube to Knightsbridge, arriving outside Harrods with just enough time to get my bearings before the doors opened. Arguably London’s most famous department store lives up to its reputation for grandeur and but is also well signposted and staffed with hundreds of friendly helpful people. Obviously I bypassed all other distractions and headed straight for the foodhalls. I had been in Harrods once before with my parents when I was younger and apart from the famous Egyptian staircase, my only lasting memories are of the foodhalls and the heart-stopping price tag on a t-shirt. After wandering for a while, staring happily at sushi, dim sum, dried meats and colourful tumbles of sweets, I finally remembered why I was there and headed for the cupcakes.
I had heard a lot about Lola’s cupcakes and that Harrods stocked them, and was interested to try one. I selected a strawberry cupcake, and a gingerbread based cupcake whose full name I can’t now recall to take away and try. However, upon later inspection of my receipt both of these cupcakes turned out to be Lily Vanilli cupcakes, not Lola’s at all. Sorry Lola’s cupcakes, you are on my list for the next visit. Later blog posts will review these cucpakes in all their spongy glory. I was impressed with the wide selection of flavours, including seasonal recipes and mini cupcakes that were on offer and the price was very normal for bespoke cakes, despite the location.
I then walked down the street, forgoing the wallet-emptying but oh-so-tasty-looking dim sum, to Harvey Nichols and again, proceeded straight to the foodhall. I have to say, this was disappointing in the extreme. After a short walk through a clutter of largely uninteresting products, I found the cupcakes I had been looking for. I’d read online about Pudding Cook and all their unusual flavours, and I’ll wait until I’ve tried them to comment on the cakes themselves, but Harvey Nichols is not doing them justice. A few, preboxed, unlabeled cupcakes were scattered on a table top next to the check-out counter under a list of flavours. I guessed that the box I picked contained a chocolate brownie cupcake and a toffee apple cupcake, but there was no way to be certain. Also, for “security reasons” you are not allowed to take photos inside Harvey Nichols, so this picture of the cupcakes alone will have to suffice.
Round the corner from Knightsbridge station is the Motcombe Street branch of Ottolenghi. When I bought the first Ottolenghi cookbook I hadn’t heard of the restaurants but I was drawn to a book packed with vibrant veg at the start and beautiful baking at the end, with a sliver of savoury meats in the middle. Its recipes made it into regular circulation remarkably quickly and are easily adaptably for seasonal veg. Naturally, all the branches of Ottolenghi made it onto my London map and I took the earliest possible opportunity to visit one.
I was hard pressed to choose my meal as absolutely everything looked really tasty, but I didn’t really have a huge appetite so settled on the cheese and chard tart with carrots and peas. It was so tasty. All the over-boilers of sprouts and microwavers of frozen carrots and peas should take note. Eating vegetables doesn’t have to be a chore!
Refreshed by my lunch (tea counts as breakfast, right?) I hopped back on the tube to Oxford Circus. From there, I walked along Oxford Street – which was heaving, even on a Tuesday morning – to Selfridges. The foodhall in Selfridges is actually a whole mess of little kiosks and nooks and counters which was fun to explore, but complicated if you wanted to make sure you saw all of it. I saw a lot of cake producers I recognised from their London stores and was delighted to find Primrose cupcakes in a little corner of the display as I had thought that the Primrose Bakery would have to wait until next time. I picked the vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting to try.
They also stocked Sweet Couture cupcakes in one of their cafes, but were unable to box them up for me to take away, so the picture will have to suffice.
So, to sum up the department stores. Harrods – magical. Selfridges – varied and interesting. Harvey Nichols – don’t bother.
Stay tuned for more adventures in London.