Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
I first stumbled on this cake shop in the rue du Bac in Paris. Crowds of Japanese tourists were pressed up against the window and there were so many cameras flashing it might as well have been the Oscars. I went inside with my American friend Lola and bought a blueberry tart so perfect I have never forgotten it.
As soon as I heard that a Pâtisserie des Rêves had opened a branch in London I rushed to Marylebone. Just north of Daunt Books, but opposite, the shop is as stylish as its Rue du Bac incarnation. Here the éclairs, tarts and millefeuilles are displayed in a setting that mixes cutesy 1950s colours (hot pinks, lime greens) with sci-fi touches (cakes are displayed under glass domes suspended from the ceiling). Tragically there’s no tearoom.
Call me prejudiced but my experience of French pâtisseries is that staff are generally snooty. While you agonise between a tarte aux fraises or a saint-honoré, they stare at you through wire-framed glasses, lips pursed, hair tightly netted. Nothing in their demeanour reveals the passion of their cake making. But here staff are friendly and eager to share their knowledge. I discover that the cakes are baked overnight in Chiswick by a band of French chefs, British chefs and one Pole, that Conticini plans to experiment with British classics (treacle tart, Victoria sponge, scones) and that he has shops in Osaka and Kyoto.
I am now about a third of the way through my study of every single cake at the Pâtisserie des Rêves. I was unexpectedly wowed by a ‘vanilla grand cru’ that looks like a flat igloo but that was before I tasted the ‘Paris-Brest’. Created in 1891 to mark a bicycle race between London and Brittany, the Paris-Brest has both the halo of aerobic exercise and true pedigree. Made from rounds of choux pastry filled with liquid praline it’s heartbreakingly good. It’s also, if you want to delude yourself about its calorie content, really rather small.
Conticini’s cakes are at the couture end of the price spectrum but they’re worth every penny. And if you want to be really French you can nip across the road and stock up on Petit Bateau t-shirts at the same time.
La Pâtisserie des Rêves is at 43 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QD, tel 020 3603 7333. The rue du Bac shop is at 75 rue du Bac, 75007 Paris. A second Pâtisserie des Rêves is scheduled to open in Kensington in late spring – this time with a tearoom.