Where just a few years ago, bakeries were confined to chains, and most things came with lashings of sugar, since 2020 or so London has begun to take its patesserie very seriously indeed. There’s been some kind of bread revolution, and cakes now represent a chance for artistry.
This new Chelsea Green patisserie serves the same exquisite baked goods as at owner Robin Birley’s Mayfair clubs 5 Hertford Street and Oswald’s but without the bother of a hefty membership fee. French-accented goodies come courtesy of star baker Vincent Zanardi: tarte Tropézienne heady with the fragrance of orange blossom water, mini lemon meringue pies as snowy-white as the Alps and jewel boxes of wafer-thin chocolate oblongs, plus savoury options of quiche Loraine and vegan sausage rolls. Dog-friendly, too, though you’ll need to bring your own biccies.
28-30 Cale Street, SW3 3QU, birleybakery.com
Toklas comes courtesy of art world power duo Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the founders of the Frieze Art fair; as well as the excellent Italian restaurant there’s an eat-in bakery onsite too. The culinary theme carries over with slices of terrific strecci, the Roman-style pizza topped with good things like leek and crème fraiche, but it’s not all so Italian: there’s also bread baked fresh each day (sourdough, porridge loaf), lemon cheesecake or lime pie, brioche filled with rice pudding and superior-quality ham and cheese sandwiches.
1 Surrey Street, WC2R 2ND, toklaslondon.com
Cédric Grolet at The Berkeley
This swish import from former World’s Best Pastry chef and Insta celebrity Cédric Grolet blurs the boundaries between patisserie, restaurant and chef’s table. A seven-course pastry tasting menu (£135) is served at a horseshoe counter at the swish Berkeley hotel; the view inside is of the chefs crafting their miniature masterpieces, outside, the trees of Hyde Park swaying on the other side of Knightsbridge. With only one sublime savoury course amid all the sweetness, think of this as a fine-dining alterative to afternoon tea. There’s a patisserie, too, for takeaway.
The Berkeley, Wilton Place, SW1X 7RL, the-berkeley.co.uk
This café-cum-bakery began life as the perfect Islington local and now extends to two more outposts in London Fields and Victoria Park plus a homeware shop for anyone wishing to replicate the experience at home with the most covetable crockery for takeaway baked goods. Social media has played a big part in Pophams’ success — take a bow, the insanely photogenic maple-bacon croissant — but everything tastes as good as it looks, from the cardamom buns to creative sarnies such as miso mackerel and specials like the Welsh rarebit Danish.
E8, E9 and N1, pophamsbakery.com
If your idea of cake fits a Marie Antoinette-shaped mould then the improbably pretty creations of Bethnal Green baker Lily Vanilli (real name Lily Jones) will almost certainly be your tasse du thé. Pastel-coloured cupcakes would not look out of place in New York’s Magnolia Bakery; wedding cakes are another speciality, but almost everything looks suitable for a big day, with cakes swagged and garlanded with more rococo ornamentation than a baroque church. The cosy courtyard café is only open from Thursday to Sunday, when a bouquet of flowers from nearby Columbia Road market would make the perfect Insta accessory to a slice of cake here.
The Courtyard, 18 Ezra Street, E2 7RH, lilyvanilli.com
This is an old-school baker like they used to make (Dunns opened in Crouch End in 1820) and is a slice of British baking history: current owner Chris Freeman is a fifth-generation baker and former Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers. Novelty cakes come shaped like London buses, beautifully iced celebration cakes are wrapped up with a neatly tied bow, cream cakes cry out for the full ceremony of a cake fork while the sausage rolls are so meaty and flaky they qualify as an entirely different species to Gregg’s.
6 The Broadway, N8 9SN, dunns-bakery.co.uk
There are many tempting things to stuff in one’s cakehole at the eight London outposts of Bread Ahead — pastries and pizza, bread and cakes — but really, everyone is here for what might possibly be London’s best doughnuts, sugar-encrusted on the crunchy outside, thick and doughy within and filled with all manner of yumminess: raspberry jam for the purists, vanilla custard for the sweet-toothed and passionfruit and meringue for something more off-piste.
Across town, breadahead.com
Old Post Office Bakery
This humble old-school bakery is a local Clapham gem and one of the first to go all-organic in south London. The date and walnut bread is that perfect balance of sweet and savoury that makes it great for a grab-and-go breakfast, or, on a sunny weekend, pick up a couple of hot pain au chocolat and eat them as you amble along to the common.
76 Landor Road, SW9 9PH, oldpostofficebakery.co.uk
Next time you’re going to a Leicester Square cinema, forget about a bucket of popcorn and queue instead for half a dozen taiyaki, the freshly made fish-shaped waffles dispensed in sweet-shop paper bags from the kiosk of this Chinatown bakery; by the time the trailer starts, the piping-hot custard filling should be just-about cool enough to eat. Alternatively, pick up something to take home: gooey egg tarts, barbecued pork puffs in a glossy pastry crust or a swirly pandan Swiss roll.
7-9 Newport Place, WC2H 7JR, @chinatownbakery_london
St John Bakery
It might be famous for its signature starter of bone marrow and parsley salad but the nose-to-tail specialist has a signature pudding too: Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese with an Eccles cake, as many of which as one wishes can be bought from this bakery spin-off (you can pick up a slice of cheese, too). The custard doughnuts are almost as famous and there are ace hot-cross buns, sourdough or seeded loaves and almond croissants, too.
3 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP, stjohnrestaurant.com
When pondering Japanese food, patisserie isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but Kova are showing us what we’ve been missing out on. This Japanese bakery, which now has four London outposts, specialises in producing fairly remarkable looking Mille Crepes, a concoction consisting of 15 layers of French-style crepes, sandwiching alternate layers of a custard cream filling. Flavours range from matcha to choclate, and all go nicely with one of Kova’s array of delicate Japanese teas.
W1F, WC2H, SW7, SW11, kovapatisserie.com
A veritable institution — as is its nearby neighbour, the orange one — you come here for one thing and one thing only: London’s finest salt beef beigel. The key to its appeal is three-fold: the bread, freshness incarnate, the puckering kiss of salt in the beef, and the fact the combination is available 24 hours a day. Worth making the trip for, at whatever time of night or day.
159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB, bricklanebeigel.co.uk
The Dusty Knuckle’s popularity has risen steadily in recent years, and deservedly so. The name may be curious — the nickname for a street-fighting baker? A strange old sex move? — but the goods are plainly and straightforwardly terrific. DK has become famous for delivering via milk float, but it’s worth heading into one of the shops for a cracking sandwich, heaving full and with air-pocketed bread that delights, or queuing for a pizza; the base is a thin slice of wonder. Sounds silly, but their basic white tin loaf is a cracker, too.
E8 and N4, thedustyknuckle.com
Le Deli Robuchon
Bored of a full English? Try a full French instead and graze your way through the Gallic delights at this chic but casual offshoot of the Joël Robuchon gastro empire. There’s pain Suisse, au chocolat and aux raisin, plain and almond croissants or ham and cheese and goats’ cheese and tomato variations, vanilla and raspberry Danishes, plus scrambled eggs or salmon and avocado on sourdough — though to really enter into the French spirit of it all, one ought to exercise Gallic restraint and restrict oneself to just the one slice of “little brioche”.
82 Piccadilly, W1J 8JA, robuchonlondon.co.uk
Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell, the pair behind Jolene, clearly are onto something, having ended up with four sites in quick succession. Their big thing is sourdough done with heritage wheat from across the UK and France too, but their sandwiches have been a huge hit as well. They’ve a nice way with playing with traditional recipes — asthetics are big here — and both the Viennoisserie and the pastry impress. For those who want a little more, seasonal small plates are available also.
Across town, bigjobakery.com
Little Bread Pedlar
There are half a dozen Little Bread Pedlars scattered around central London, plus another 30 or so places selling the products of a company founded in 2011 by former St John Bread and Wine chef Nichola Gensler and her partner Martin Hardiman, including top restaurants like Café Murano and The Quality Chop House. It’s not hard to see why chefs love the stuff so much: the sourdough is naturally leavened, the croissants and pain au chocolat made with French Lescure butter, there’s an outstanding Gruyère cheese bun for something savoury or, sweetest of all, squidgy chocolate brownies.
Across London, lbpedlar.com
Their brooding crime dramas may have come and gone but Scandi baking is as steadfastly popular as ever in London. The Scandinavian Kitchen is one of the best examples of exactly what this means: the soft, sticky cinnamon buns, say, which are surely among the best in London, or the open sandwiches, which come with all sorts but are marked by a uniform freshness and tart touch. The Danish “dream cake” is aptly named, too.
61 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PP, scandikitchen.co.uk
Fpund under the railway arches at London Fields, this bakery is a survivor from the hipster days, but it has steered the course thanks to its changing menu of sandwiches, tarts, patisserie and bread every which way. It’s a rattly old spot but the quality is evident, and it’s easy enough to see why it’s often busy beyond just bustling. Look out for their regular pastry classes, and their brunch, too.
Arch 395, Mentmore Terrace, E8 3PH, e5bakehouse.com