Everyone experiences moments when they know they don’t fit in. It’s awkward, uncomfortable for everyone, and mildly embarrassing. I’d avoided this experience for months, knowing I would have to do it eventually, but finding every excuse possible to put it off.
At the last moment possible, I gave in, knowing I’d regret it if I didn’t just suck it up and do it. Unfortunately, I’d packed my party dress and nice shoes.
So, dressed in a Smiths t-shirt, skinny jeans, a black toque and Converse sneakers, I made my way to Belgravia to have cake.
Belgravia is in the borough of Kensington. It is posh. Clean. Inhabited by bankers and lawyers and CEOs I assume. The cars here are shiny, new, and expensive.
My destination is Peggy Porschen’s Boutique, a cake shop that perhaps sells the best cake in London. In my time here I have eaten a good deal of cake. Not because I want to of course, out of professional curiosity. My time in London has perhaps booted me onto the road to Type 2 Diabetes; it was only recently I realized that my search for the best sweets in town has been the result of not having the time or energy to produce anything at home, something I have been doing for the last six years. The satisfaction however was always in the process, no wonder my London tour never left me feeling felt truly satisfied.
Before I talk about the good stuff, let’s review:
The cake at the famous Bea’s of Bloomsbury was good. They specialize in “American style” sweets: cupcakes, giant cookies, tall layered cakes, and cheesecake. The Chocolate Guinness cake was good, a bit underbaked, it was fudgy but stuck to the rood of your mouth, which wasn’t especially pleasant, but the the cream cheese frosting was surprisingly light and not sugary, as they tend to be. Overall, it was good, better than most, but far from perfect.
Peyton & Byrne, a well-known establishment, served up a decent Victoria sponge, though it was what could be expected from a place that often shows its face in train stations and museum foyers. This one was a swiss-roll style, and used fresh (but out of season — it was October after all) strawberries to complement the rich cream. The sponge was sticky, but not dry, and they used real vanilla in the cream, which bought them back the points they’d lost by serving it on a paper plate with a plastic fork. The take-away banana cake, studded with toasted hazelnuts and chocolate and available in lovely pink or blue tins, was extremely disgusting.
A necessary stop was made to the Primrose Bakery, a teeny but welcoming shop located a walk down the Camden canal, away from the tattoos and cheap tourist shops, to a quaint residential area near Mornington Crescent station. This cupcakery has one or two cookbooks widely available in Canada, so I assume it is well-known. The cupcakes were not dry and actually flavourful (as opposed to the Hummingbird Bakery, but I’ve already ragged on them so I won’t repeat myself). I won’t lie, I fell for the bubblegum cupcake, even as an adult I am such a sucker for this incredibly unnatural flavour, but it was actually kind of delicious. The frosting was a bit sweet and the cake a bit on the dry side, but overall the experience was pleasant, like going to a bazaar and buying a cupcake at the bake table. And Bazooka Joe gum? A nice touch.
And finally, the last stop.
I’d seen photos online of the shop; it appeared much larger on the outside, in photos and reality. I didn’t take an establishing shot for this stop, I actually dislike taking photos, but I love having photos. Sometimes, I discover that my photos are a bit unfocused because I’ve tried to be a bit to quick getting it back into my pocket. It comes back to that feeling of not belonging; I don’t want to appear to be a tourist, even if I am one.
Walking through Belgravia was something akin to strolling through the City, where I worked until recently. I’ve already mentioned the city is new and shiny as the previous incarnation was bombed quite a bit during the war. Everyone is in a hurry, usually dressed in black suits, talking on their cellphones. The City feels like somewhere far away from London.
I actually always anticipated hover crafts to come zipping around the corner. It will most likely look like a scene from Blade Runner in the next, say, forty years.
Back in Belgravia I see ladies with giant sunglasses (okay, me too, but keep in mind I’ve misplaced my Chanel suit) doing their errands in four inch heels and carrying Birken bags. Sigh. I’m surprised they run buses out here, but how else would the plebs get to their coffee shop jobs?
This is the first thing I see when I approach this pink-beacon:
I think I might die.
Let me go back. I can’t recall when I discovered Peggy’s books, but I bought one not because the pink, white, and black sugar cookies and handbag cakes were remotely close to the style I wanted to eventually produce once I started making cakes for a living, but because the cakes were executed in a technically perfect way. Having read and worked through the book for the three or four years I have had it, I had to know if they were so perfect (albeit extremely girlie) in reality. That cake in the window, covered with roses (and a bit of dust, such is life), blew me away. They were that perfect.
But how would they taste?
The display counter was smaller than I’d thought. I had perused the menu online and decided I was going to bite the bullet and try a slice of the fruit cake, with its marzipan and fondant covering, despite fruit cake not being my taste. If her more elaborate cakes are fruit cake, I wanted to know what they tasted like.
But there was her famous Victoria Sponge. And the Strawberry and Champagne cake. The Dark Truffle Cake. Ahggg, what to try?
A tiered cake stand with samples of
ALL THE CAKES.
So I was able to try all the cakes.
The girl behind the counter, who told me the truffle cake was amazing, was no liar. It was out of this world.
But I ordered the Victoria Sponge instead. I had to have a slice even though I didn’t want to eat cake. It isn’t normal for me to go into an all-pink cake shop in a posh neighbourhood, dressed like a grumpy teenager, order a piece of pale pink cake and a coffee, and try to enjoy myself without feeling like I should vacate the premises immediately or offer to shine someones shoes. But I did it for my career. And for you, those who have read this far.
I mean, look at that.
That isn’t fondant. I thought it was, but it’s just perfectly frosted, I sat there staring at it for long enough.
I want to be this perfect.
I will note I felt a bit more at ease when one of the bakers pushed open the front door, apron crinkled, hair awry, covered in chocolate, and stomped to the kitchen. I don’t normally approve of chefs being seen in the dining room unless it’s the head chef, cleaned up as they tend to be, but this girl showed up at the right time. I wanted to hug her.