Pastry hides out in London. It’s not making wanton curlicues on every counter as in Paris; it’s not got cult status as in San Francisco. But it is here, moving slowly but surely towards some kind of renaissance, out of the darkness of the Jus-Rol years. These enlightened pockets embrace pastry as a house signature; so it should be. Pastry is as personal as handwriting, and there is no better way for a pastry cook or chef to roll out identity as with this iterative formula of flour, fat and some kind of liquid. The parts are so simple that they become loaded with significance: don’t think it’s not a manifesto on the plate. For those who chase that moment where crust caves in under the pressure of a fork or spoon — these are the places to go.Read More
Where to Eat Pastry in London
Deeply flavoured laminations, delicate tarts, perfect pithiviers, and more
1. 40 Maltby Street
If there’s one menu in town that’s plotted through pastry, then it’s this one. An annual pilgrimage through en croutes and lattice pies, short and suet crusts, it starts with an epiphany, — the eponymous pastry cake — peaks in midsummer with a pneumatic custard slice, and finds its winter style in a dry-aged minced pie. These pastries become life events for many of the regular crowd; being there for each yearly iteration on a classic is a kind of ritual. Be sure to look for them on the counter: chef Steve Williams understands that pastry need not be segments on the counter: the whole point is the whole glorious thing.
When Ombra gets a carcass in from that baron of native breed meats, Farmer Tom Jones, the fat (pork or beef) is rendered down for cannoli. It’s the secret to a pastry that blisters and pops like crackling, stuffed with buffalo ricotta cream, spiked with amaro and dusted with Bronte’s green gold. Heady, as dangerous as a cigar, it’s a stand alone, late-night, hard-drinking item, to be paired with a negroni. Befitting something so singular, it’s not always on, but anything involving crème diplomat in pasty is always a winner; daytime, there are tarts to go on the coffee counter.
Claire Ptak cut her pastry teeth at Chez Panisse, and the pastries at her bakery are a golden ode back to Californian summers; where it was never too hot to cut butter into flour, but baking enough to practically roast the fruit on the trees. Look for open galettes, and deep set lunchtime quiches that deliver both weathered crust and barely-set filling; all made fresh in the morning and sold like, er, hot cakes, by mid afternoon.
For all its bakeries, London’s viennoiserie game is still pretty dismal in the grand scheme of things. But there is one option here which doesn’t taste like you wish you were somewhere else: the bakery arm to Hedone, open to the public on Saturdays down at Bermondsey’s Spa Terminus market. This sourdough-based, long and slow recipe makes for pastry which, radically, almost improves with age. Less croissant cross-section porn, these are bread-spectrum laminates with weight, acidity and depth.
5. Marksman Public House
The Marksman pie is part of the menu furniture, to depend on like an old local propping up the bar. Fillings change — from rabbit and girolle; veal; venison, bacon and pickled prune — but the crust does not: as flat as a pond and as thin as a sheet of ice. This is not pie by its usual signifiers — the pastry instead a melting wager on the tongue — but this is what makes it. It is a pie into which a perfectly dressed salad might be dipped, as well as or instead of the usual starch. Which is great, because you want to save room for the honey and brown butter tart at dessert.
Lyle’s’ pastry is no longer Anna Higham’s pastry. But very few come near to the layers of puff that seem inherited by her predecessors, still, as fine and as fragile as old bible paper. But the shortcrust tarts — attended by milk ices, hay-infused custards, Sussex berries and plums — are also totally captivating. Come winter, cross town for the mince pie, a rough puff, demerara sugar-laminated aged dexter item, that’s available from the coffee counter each day until sell out.
7. Antepliler Kunefe
If anywhere in London knows kadaif — strands of filo pastry, half baked on a griddle — then it is Antepliler Kunefe on Green Lanes. Their kunefe, a golden mesh of chopped kadaif, fused by unsalted molten cheese and bound by syrup, is a masterpiece of definition within excess — all down to judging that exact point to turn the cake in its griddle. Have it in, rather than to go, as a tepid kunefe come dangerously close to a congealed wad of fat.
8. Quo Vadis
Quo Vadis has a fine pudding menu, and within that, a whole separate section for ‘The QV: Les Profiteroles au Chocolat.’ Possibly the most consummate expression of Jeremy Lee’s favourite expression: excess. This is a Babylonian tower of choux, custard, ice-cream, choux and chocolate, rivalled only in engineering by the vol-au-vent that — when it’s on — is the must-have item over on savouries.
9. Quality Chop Shop at Quality Chop House
Lunchtime at Quality Chop House shop (one side of the restaurant) is always heralded by the smell of just-baked sausage rolls. They’ll emerge at around midday in a spiced, savoury fug, practically frying in their own fat and weeping meat juices. The pastry here is gloriously fatty, almost in the suet model and — eaten about 5 minutes old — closer to a kind of pudding. There are also hand-raised pork pies and large puff-crust pies in enamel to take home; add a jar of one of the many house condiments.
10. The Pie Room
Look through the glass hatch of The Pie Room at Holborn Dining Room and “kitchen” is not the first word that comes to mind. Rather, this tiny, copper-encrusted room — manned with dervish intricacy by a hive of immaculate cooks — looks like the workshop of a master craftsman. That would be Calum Franklin, the ‘pastry deviant’ behind all of this who deploys cut patterns, rulers and pencils to produce lattices which wouldn’t be out of place at the V&A. Go to the restaurant for beef wellington, but the hot and cold counter of the pie room, open 11am-4pm, offers some of the best takeaways in the city.
In the barely set, golden years of Taberna do Mercado’s pasteis del nata, it was easy to forget that London had any other custard tart worth eating. But all that time, there was Poilane Bakery’s Breton custard flan. This custard tart of a totally different ilk: pâte brisée with the stretch of old leather; an unspiced and staunch far-like custard. Less spooning, more matronly pillow. Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.
Brawn is responsible for one of the most ‘grammed pastries of them all, a razor-sharp neon triangle of rhubarb tart that appears with the forced Yorkshire season every January. This is where to come for murmurous fruit tatins and glazed frangipanes, always of the deceptively simple, innately artful sort that Richard Olney probably put on the table back in a 1970s Provençal garden.
When Portland first opened, it did so with a pithivier. Several years on, the menu may have changed but come autumn, it’s still glorious pithivier season. Still reeking with feral classism that marked them under Merlin Labron-Johnson’s tenure, these parcels of game, foie, farce, truffle and duxelles, are a kind of members only item, to be reserved ahead. Keep a hawkish eye on the Instagram feeds.
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