Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Maison Bertaux

Oh, Readers of Whimsy!
Allow me to take you on the ultimate tea and cake pilgrimage in London... This cafe is the undisputed Number One cafe around London as voted by Silver Whimsy herself since she first arrived in London in 1997! Maison Bertaux.
Not only is this cafe located in the heart of Soho, it is also the BEST place in London for tea.
The shop window is a candy-coloured cornucopia of delights. The baking here is the essence of baking - baking at it's most artful, generous and magical.
Frequently, on a first visit to Maison Bertaux, people can be put off by the seemingly unfriendly service, however it is really just a case of familiarity and being prepared with your order before you enter the cafe!! (They like you to have already perused the cakes and made your mind up before you clutter up their hallway.) When I first started going to Maison Bertaux, I was obsessed with wearing butterflies in my hair, and as a result the extraordinarily beautiful waiters that grace the cafe would occasionally give me an extra cake for my butterfly to feed on! This is the sort of wonderfully romantic and generous gesture that a place like Maison Bertaux can make...
I prefer taking my tea upstairs because it has this amazing secret romantic tryst/writers paradise feeling to it, but there is a delightful space downstairs as well, currently featuring lots of bunting and some pretty tablecloths.
The thing about sitting upstairs though, is that Noel Fielding has had several art exhibitions in the cafe over the years and lots of his writing remains on the walls, so if you haven't got either a notebook or a SIBF with you for company, there is always something with which to occupy yourself! If you tie it right and you're in the cafe when one of his art exhibitions are actually happening, then there is no way you would want a notebook for company because there is way too much to look at!
Your tea (normally brought to you by a ridiculously good looking waiter) arrives in a wonderfully genuine no-nonsense well-pouring tea pot with a generous jug of hot water, milk and a much-used and loved tea strainer. (Modelled below by my SIBF. Look to the left of the tea pot and you will see examples of Noel Fielding's wall-writing.)
The house-blend tea is dark, golden, strong and seemingly never-ending. (If you order camomile tea, they bring you the actual beautiful little flower heads in a pot - how extremely divine.)
One of the truly joyous things about being in Maison Bertaux is that you feel as if you are genuinely attending Alice's tea party, except it is a million times better than expected.... And then there are the cakes...
Words cannot do justice to these epicurean creations. On this visit to Maison Bertaux with my SIBF, I went for my usual favourite cream fruit choux bun. I have no idea how every piece of fruit they carefully choose for their delicacies can be so sumptuous, nor how the cream can be so excrutiatingly delicious.
My SIBF spotted a new cake in the window - one we had never seen before - and so chose it. I was very glad that he did - I would LOVE to know how they make this chocolate icing. It is sticky and chocolatey, smooth and shiny and all encompassing in a way that chocolate icing rarely is - it tastes better than it looks. Other favourites are the Maison Bertaux chocolate eclairs and these almond ring cream buns. Seriously the best patisserie in London.
Whilst Maison Bertaux is on the expensive side, it feels like an occasion being there; you can sit for hours and hours, all the best dressed people frequent the glories of it's slightly ripped black plastic-leather old school 60s almost-beatnik-seats, and you actually feel like your life and creativity have seriously improved by virtue of being there. I cannot recommend it enough.

Baking will resume in a week or two, so keep your eyes peeled for the next Summer of Whimsy!

Patisserie and Papillons,
Silver Whimsy x

PS Whilst this is not the usual Whimsy thing to do, I must leave you with a photograph of the toilets at Maison Bertaux - where else is this the standard of grafitti?!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Camden Arts Centre

Dearest Readers,

I may well regret this post. For I am about to reveal to you The Secret of Whimsy. Well, maybe that’s a bit of a grand statement, but this truly is my ultimate writing place, my top two café of all time, my place-to-come-to-in-time-of-need, my failsafe, trusted artspace / café / garden / purveyor of a damn fine cup of coffee…

Readers of Whimsy, I present to you...

The Camden Arts Centre!

Hidden away on Arkwright Road, just off Finchley Road is the beautiful late Victorian ex-library that is home to the Camden Arts Centre. There is a changing exhibition every few months, and that is one of the best things about this café – you can always combine a visit with a quick skip and jump around the exquisitely configured galleries with sky-high ceilings, wooden floors, masses of natural light and perennially interesting exhibitions.

The re-design of the building is an architectural tour de force – there is a pretty little garden hidden behind a glass wall

that does a remarkable job of blocking the traffic noise and makes you feel as if you are hidden in a caffeine-fuelled utopian vision of arts for the people!

A major pull of the Camden Arts Centre is its huge tables, daily newspapers laid out, free wi-fi and lap-top friendly atmosphere. I have written dissertations, novels, poetry and endless rants from these tables, and today, for the first time, I am actually BLOGGING LIVE from here!

Is this the birth of site-reflexive blogging? The coffee here was voted as Time Out’s best cup of coffee, and I have to say it is always delicious, never burnt or bitter and one of the few cups of coffee on offer in London that actually gives you a caffeine hit.

I wouldn’t recommend the cakes here, but fresh, home-made, healthy and unusual salads (‘Salad?’ I hear you say, ‘Salad in the World of Whimsy?’ – well, there’s a first time for everything…) are made on the premises right before your eyes every morning, and provide good value for money as well as plenty of your five a day. (It is useful to recompense for the endless slices of cake by coming here for lunch once in a while.)

This café is a complete contrast to Burgh House – whilst you may well fall in love over a cream tea at Burgh House, it would be far more appropriate to come in city-chic post-modern polos and talk Ginsberg over an Americano at the Camden Arts Centre – but equally one of the best in our city of love and poison.

Until next time,

Silver Whimsy x