My adventures in London – Soho
The transition line between broad, branded oxford street and windy, quirky, sometimes lewd soho seems to be Carnaby Street. I’d planned a rest stop at Carnaby Street for two reasons. One, I was pretty sure I’d need one by then, and two, it is the location of a branch of Leon. Since Richard gave me the cookbook as a birthday present a couple years ago, I have been in love with this little franchise. Its mantra is fast food that tastes good and does you good. I use their recipies all the time and will love them forever for introducing me to fructose and so I cannot visit London without stopping for a Leon. However, I forgot to factor a couple of things into my carefully laid plans. Namely that it was lunchtime and that the Carnaby Street Leon is the smallest Leon I have seen yet. But, I would rather be footsore sipping a blackcurrant quencher from leon than sitting comfortably in a starbucks, so that is exactly what I did.
Onwards and unrested then to the Hummingbird bakery. Probably the most famous cupcakery in the UK, I have visited Hummingbird before in its Kensington location and while I was pleased by the quality of the cakes, I was a little disappointed by the lack of variety. Their Wardour Street branch rectified that.
I was in fact, hard pressed to choose just two for my experiments (the limit I set myself on cakes from any one bakery). Eventually I went for grape soda – the flavour of the day – and black bottom. Black bottom cupcakes are something I’ve read about a lot but never seen in person, so I was intrigued to give it a go.
The next stop on my list was the one I was most excited about. Cox Cookies and Cake is housed in a former sex shop among current sex shops in crowded Soho. The cakes are designed by shoe designer Patrick Cox and created by master patissier Eric Lanlard. They promised to be quirky and well crafted, and I believed them.
The interior of the shop is all black and neon, just like its facade and only a small number of cakes are on the counter at a time. The staff were friendly and really into their products. A customer who arrived as I was trying to choose just two of the shiny cakes was looking for something to surprise her work colleague and was immediately drawn to the cakes decorated with chocolate nudes and poppy Marilyn Monroes. I, on the other hand, was tempted by the delicious flavours. I settled on a “kiss cake” – vanilla with a blueberry compote centre – and a “red skull cake” – chocolate with a strawberry compote centre and red frosting. Both of these were speciality cakes and so were expensive. We’ll see later if they were worth it.
Now I was truly in need of refreshment and, lingering longingly on my way past Yauatcha (a tea house and dim sum restaurant), I spotted the very thing I needed. A snog.
Even in Soho, a snog is not as sordid as it sounds. It’s a fat free, low GI frozen yogurt sweetened only with agave nectar. I had green tea flavour with blueberries and it was exactly what I needed. Cold, refreshing and a place to sit!
Fortified and rejuvenated, I carried on into chinatown. I’m afraid my motivation from here on was somewhat less cake related. I love wandering the supermarkets and shops in and around china town and although I couldn’t buy all that much as I have to carry all my luggage on the train home, I still had fun seeing the sights. In fact, I spent so long seeing the sights that I felt it justified another break. I love Chinese bubble tea (pearl milk tea) and was recommended a sweet shop in chinatown where I could get Taro flavour. My local shop in Edinburgh doesn’t do this exotic purply flavour so I was eager to try it. Finding the shop took a little more work than I’d like to admit being that it was almost exactly at the spot by which I had entered chinatown to begin with, but the Candy Cafe is worth it. Up a narrow flight of stairs it is a little place with a big menu. At least, the drinks menu is big. The sweets and snacks they offer looked brilliant too, but bubble tea is almost a meal in itself due to the yummy tapioca pearls (sago) that give it its name, so I didn’t allow myself to be tempted.
I love milky bubble tea in general, but the taro flavour gives a new, unusual dimension. Its sort of sweet and cereally and…well…purply tasting. I really enjoyed it and am sad I can’t get it at home. As well as the tea, I did manage to purchase one or two sweets in chinatown and in the cybersweet shop on the way to covent garden (where my wanderings took me next) which may also make it onto the blog at a later date. I was enticed into this shop by the wall of pocky!
So, cake tour over I headed off to London Bridge to meet friends for dinner and was so delighted by what I found there I will include it here, even though I don’t have a picture to do it justice. Down a little alley, right next to the tube station, is the George Inn. It is a proper, old, galleried coaching inn. The bar area is split into several small rooms flanking a courtyard and passage between them means going outside and back in again. They have their own George Inn ale on tap and serve the best fish and chips I have had in a long long time. Upstairs, a little restaurant area is accessed via a balcony – although you can eat in the bar as well – where we were seated and served by a cheerful cockney landlady. It looked like they had bedrooms too, which would make an amazing stop over location.
All in all, a very successful, very busy day! Next time we’ll get to the important stuff – how the cakes taste!