It is a Famous Fact, that I love cake.
As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, having cake is the main means through which I socialise with people. It is like going to the pub, only way more chocolatey. I also have the palette of a five-year-old. How much icing is the correct amount? All the icing. Just… all of it.
With this in mind, as a public service, here is some of my personal general cakey highlights in London….
Disclaimer – I do not actively seek out taste experiences like a true conoisseur. For all of my cakey love, I’ve still got stuff to do, places to be. As a result my list is fairly generic, which sorta reflects the way most people live their lives.
- Belle Epoque (Upper Street/Newington Green). It is so good. It is expensive. (Expect to drop around a fiver on a slice, sigh.) It is tres French. The first branch opened on Newington Green back when the patch of green in the middle was still known as Needle Park. Things have changed a lot since then. Stoke Newington has become well vegan cafe/yoga studio. Belle Epoque arguably lead that charge, with its incredible concoctions of the Frenchiest kind. My personal favourite – the chocolate and raspberry cake, pure punishment to the aorta, pure delight to the senses.
- Hummingbird Bakery (all over the place). Did I mention icing? I am fond of a proper bit of cupcake icing. Cupcakes went into fashion a few years ago as a massively cutesie thing to indulge in while being blond and backlit. I think that fad has passed somewhat, but some of the cupcake winners of that era – Hummingbird, Bea’s of Bloomsbury and Lola’s – still remain. Bea’s specialises, as far as I can tell, in putting lots of sparkly bits on top of things. Lola’s does hugely rich, somewhat more imaginative recipes. Hummingbird has a few solid staples that it just does well, and as someone who only occassionally commits cupcakes, I gotta respect that. However if you’re looking for a sit-down place to get cakey on, then you’ll probably want Bea’s instead.
- The British Museum. I don’t understand afternoon tea. You pay a flipping fortune for small bits with little bits of stuff on the side. But if you gotta commit afternoon tea, then you could do a lot worse than commit it at the British Museum, ‘cos, well… museums are great, and it’s quite nice! Why go to the Ritz when you can do something that is, frankly, better? A pricier alternative (although it’s already flipping afternoon tea, so clearly you’re not concerned about budget vs. efficiency here) is afternoon tea in the Conservatory at the Barbican, because let’s face it, tropical fruit possets in a haven of sheltered greenery in the heart of the city is pretty darn sexy. Just be aware you should book all this in advance.
- Ben’s Cookies (basically everywhere). When I worked in the video department at the National Theatre, I was given one big tip for a happy technical rehearsal: my boss loved Ben’s Cookies. So at the start of a week of being trapped for twelve hours a day in a darkened room waiting on, heaven help us, the movement director to adjust a spear-carrier’s left foot, I’d bring in cookies. Ben’s Cookies are basically pure sugar with bits in, but they are served hot and gooey, and let’s face it, sometimes that’s just what you need.
- Hotel Chocolat (also getting into lots of places). Yes, they do very expensive (albeit very nice) chocolates. But increasingly, they also have cafes that do expensive (but so nice!) hot chocolate and milkshakes. And my word, but they are good. I’d always suggest the darker options over the milky stuff, because my word, you can taste things going on in those wee cups that make you realise that cocoa is a concept you haven’t really understood – until this day.
- Scoop (Covent Garden). My Italian friend was, quite reasonably, an ice cream snob. So when I say that every year she had a birthday celebration in Scoop, it is truly a badge of honour and respect. She also didn’t mind Amorino, mostly for their willingness to put seven flavours in one small cup; but Scoop was the gold standard to which all other gelato must bow.
- Yorrica (Soho). When one of my vegan friends explained that there was such a thing as vegan ice cream, I was sceptical. When she took me to Yorica, I was in fact, grateful. For those who shun diary – you can do a lot worse.
- That Churros Stand in Camden Lock. I don’t know it’s name. But it’s that churros stand that you can find in Camden Lock. All praise be unto its fried and cinnamony goodness.
- Dark Sugars (Brick Lane). It’s a bit like Hotel Chocolat, only it sells stuff by the weight, and its hot chocolate is an indulgant, overflowing explosion of sweetness that can, I believe, even come in a chocolate cup, for that truly heart-stopping experience. There’s actually two Dark Sugars on Brick Lane, but if you push through the crowds to the bigger one towards Hanbury St, you’ll find a slightly uncomfortable chair with a view to gawk at the sacks and sacks of chocolatey treats, truffles and sugared fruits on offer.
- Raj Mahal Sweets (Brick Lane). A few doors down from Dark Sugars, you will find Raj Mahal Sweets. The stickiest, sweetest, sugariest, most vibrantly coloured treats of the Indian sub-continent are lined up in glass counters to be thrown into a box for a remarkably reasonable price, along with the occassional freebie thrust your way with a cry of ‘try this! It’ll glue your teeth together’ for the true enthusiast of all things sugary.
- On a sugary note… without having one specific recommendation, as my favourite place closed a few years ago… head North up Green Lanes and you will encounter baklava. So, so much baklava. The baklava of Green Lanes is often sweeter and more full of honey and syrup than the more nutty baklava of Edgware Road and Shephard’s Bush. Pick your preferences and travel accordingly.
- Cafe Nerro (sometimes, everywhere). Most high-street cafe cake is thoroughly disappointing. Dry, tasteless, headache-inducing meh. But occassionally Cafe Nerro raises it’s game with a not totally useless chocolate fudge cake, or a bit of lemon cheesecake that sometimes tastes of lemon. However quality is inconsistent, so if it looks dry and meh in the cabinet, odds are it is.
- The pastel de natas of Brixton. There is a Portuguese community around the Brixton/Stockwell boarder. One of the many, many perks of this is that the quality of pastel de natas rises hugely, while the price declines. South Lambeth is particularly good for this golden confluence.
- Konditor (again, sorta around). This nearly didn’t make the list because, controversially, sometimes it’s too sweet, or the wrong kind of sweet, even for my sweet tooth. But it does do a nice offer on brownies, and swirly-wirly cake is a really lovely gift to receive from people who don’t know what to get you when they realise that you’re teetotal.
- Goswell Road Coffee (Goswell Road, but also I think a branch at Brick Lane wittily called Brick Lane Coffee). I don’t understand coffee, but I am reliably informed by people who Know Their Stuff, that it does a dead good cuppa. For me, however, it is on this list for one thing, and one thing only – the salted cookie. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is to find a good salted cookie.
- Euphorium Bakery. This smallish chain used to do the greatest chocolate tart in the west. It was pure crack in a shortcrust pastry. However changes in ownership has caused a massive decline in basically all their baked products, along with a steep increase in price. RIP, the finest tart in the West.
- Paul/Patissery Valerie. My general rule of thumb is: if you need to add a merry tonne of cream onto something to make it work, then the thing you’re trying to make work, probably doesn’t work.
- Gail’s. They do a nice scone. Everything else is frequently over-priced and a bit tasteless. I cannot right now recall whether the scone is served properly i.e. with clotted cream and jam, or whether they attempt to charge extra, as horrifically some people do, in one of the greatest insults to the glory of British baked goods ever rendered.