Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
Is this the best cake shop in London?
I first stumbled on this extraordinary 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 sublime 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 with indecent haste. Paris pastry wizard Philippe Conticini is to cakes what Yves Saint Laurent is to tuxedos. He takes a classic and turns it into something exceptional.
Just north of Daunt Books, but opposite, the shop is every bit as ravishing
as its Rue du Bac incarnation. Here the luscious 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). The effect is both enchanting and original.
Staff are unsnooty 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 is also experimenting with British classics (treacle tart, Victoria sponge) 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 in this delectable shop. 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 delicious. 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, 43 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QD. The rue du Bac shop is at 75 rue du Bac, 75007 Paris. For more info see lapatisseriedesreves.com
Another Pâtisserie des Rêves is scheduled to open in Kensington in May – this time with a tearoom.