L’Eto Caffé

L’Eto Caffé is a beautiful little café situated next door to Hummingbird Bakery on Wardour Street in Soho with the most fabulous window display of cakes and desserts that you can feast yours eyes on.  I discovered it during my months as an intern at a busy PR office in Soho where I indulged in their Honey Cake on a regular basis when cake felt like the only option for survival!  However, I had a meeting with my personal tutor from university, having recently finished, to discuss the future, and I decided that one of L’Eto Caffé’s fabulous-looking cakes would be the perfect present to say thank you for all the help I had received throughout my time at university.  Therefore, I chose a decadent Chocolate Cinnamon Cake that stood tall in the café window.  After all, who doesn’t love a good chocolate cake, and one with a cinnamon twist at that?!

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Unfortunately, it did turn into the leaning tower of cake after fighting my way through the bustling crowds of Oxford Street, but it most certainly did not affect the taste.  The sponge was rich and moist, and the chocolate was deliciously decadent.  Each mouthful was a chocolate, heavenly dream.  This was made even better by the chocolate and cinnamon cream that sandwiched the chocolate layers together.  I would honestly class this as the best chocolate cake I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my very welcoming mouth!  It looks the part and tastes the part, and you can not ask for much more than that!

If you happen to be in the area, or fancy a coffee date with a special twist, I would thoroughly recommend L’Eto Caffé to fulfil your sweet cake cravings any day.  Their cakes are wonderful and the service is warm and friendly.  A visit to L’Eto Caffé could never leave you disappointed.

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Bake-a-Boo

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 21st birthday party of one of my best friends, Emma, at Bake-a-Boo in West Hampstead.  I was really excited about visiting this small ‘bake shop, tea room & party parlour’, as it comes highly recommended in a lot of reviews, but somehow it had managed to escape my cupcake radar!

From the second we stepped through the door, it was obvious why Bake-a-Boo has received constant praise from everyone who has set foot in this beautiful, homely tea room.  They truly go above and beyond with their afternoon tea bookings.  Not only did they dedicate the whole back room to this wonderful celebration so that it was like our own private tea party, they truly went to such an amazing effort to make it the cutest and most beautiful surprise a girl could wish for; Emma was absolutely delighted when she saw her beautifully decorated birthday room.  There was multi-coloured bunting, happy birthday banners, and party hats galore.  And don’t even get me started on the dressing up box and all its glamorous feather bowers that were waiting to be draped round our necks!

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The cuteness didn’t just end there.  Every aspect of the afternoon tea was dedicated to personal touches.  There was a little box for all the guests to place birthday wishes in, party bags full of sweets with little ‘E’ for Emma stickers holding them together, and the most adorable pink vanilla cupcakes with personalised ’21’ and ‘Emma’ flags poking out of the top!

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There was an absolute abundance of food too!  There were loads of little finger sandwiches packed with lots of different fillings, beautiful warm scones with mounds of jam and clotted cream served in heart shape dishes, thick slices of home made shortbread that were covered in icing sugar, indulgent mini brownie squares, sweet strawberries dipped in chocolate, multi coloured flying saucers, and, of course, cakes with candles for the birthday girl to blow out!

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I definitely filled up on all the goodies!  The scones were absolutely beautiful and could simply be pulled apart to be piled high with jam and clotted cream; the shortbread was sweet and crumbly; the dark chocolate brownies were heavenly indulgent; and the strawberries were wonderfully fresh and juicy, with a thick coating of chocolate that left us all picking at them even when we were full!

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I also adored the vintage mismatched crockery, and their tea selection was commendable.  I went for a fruity strawberry and kiwi tea to match the hot summer weather!  It was absolutely delightful and I’m pretty sure I drank nearly a whole teapot’s worth to myself!

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Overall, this was a fabulous tea party, which was thoroughly thought out and is completely worth the trip out of central London to West Hampstead!  Not a single complaint can be made about this afternoon tea, as it was carried out to absolute perfection.  We had a wonderful time and I would not hesitate to recommend this place to anyone who was looking for something special for an upcoming celebration.

Happy Birthday Emma!  I hope you had a lovely day!

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Le Déjeuner á Balthazar Boulangerie

Clearly, when it comes to writing about authentic French cafés in the heart of London, my GCSE French comes in rather handy (for once)!  Not that I can say much more than ‘Lunch at Balthazar Boulangerie’… But no one needs to know that!

I have to admit that Paris is one of my favourite European cities, and the one that I have visited the most considering it’s a short train ride away from London.  Somehow it manages to keep so much charm and French amour, despite the hoards of tourists that are constantly flocking to this beautiful, romantic city.  For me, part of the beauty and romance of the French capital are its small, cramped, simplistic wooden cafés and restaurants that are crammed into the backstreets, with menus that even Google Translate can barely help me with.  However, I jump for joy when I spot one with fresh sandwiches and cakes piled high on display, assembled to highlight an array of colourful meats, salads, and pastries, so I couldn’t be happier to find that Balthazar Boulangerie has captured my favourite part of Paris right on my doorstep!

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The choice was phenomenal, as every sandwich was bursting with a rainbow of fresh ingredients and the salads stood out vibrantly.  Eventually, my mum and I decided to share a sandwich and two salads.  And at the end of it all, we decided that we couldn’t resist a cheeky dessert to finish off the whole experience!  Truth be told, we’d been oohing and ahhing over the sugar-filled treats long before choosing our savoury ‘main’!

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We started our Parisian taste trip with a lovely salami, mozzarella and salad-filled sandwich on paysan (potato and onion) bread.  The flavours were a beautiful combination, and the bread was so light and fluffy, with a bit of a chewy crunch on the outside.  It was quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying in London.

The service was absolutely impeccable too.  Having told them that we were going to share the sandwich, they served it cut in half for us both to enjoy without having to battle with the cutting it in half ourselves.  You would be shocked at how many cafés and restaurants have served us things to share without extra cutlery, plates, or splitting it prior to serving.  Balthazar is one of those places that you instantly feel relaxed as the staff are so friendly and helpful and are actually good at their job!

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Usually I can give or take a salad, but these salads were to die for and I will definitely be returning for these time and time again!  The salad on the left consisted of gorgeous maple-roasted tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, pine nuts, lentils and caramelised onions.  Despite watching the mass of tourists, huddling under umbrellas and hoarding into Covent Garden on a typical London day in the season of April showers, the European and Mediterranean feel of the flavours and ingredients allowed your thoughts to wander to those days of summer, lounging by the swimming pool, basking in the hot, hot rays of the sun and enjoying the freshest and most delicious salads on your sun bed.  However, my favourite was the salad on the right: chickpea and cucumber salad with currants, mint, mixed spices, and Greek yoghurt.  It was the coronation chicken of salads, but with chickpeas instead of chicken!  The dressing was absolutely wonderful with the slight curry flavour sweetened dramatically with the tiny currants that made their way into every mouthful.  I literally could have eaten this all day!

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I then washed the whole thing down with a powerfully refreshing home made ginger ice tea.  It was fantastically fiery and sweet all at the same time.  I would definitely recommend one of these, especially if you’re feeling a bit bunged up; it most certainly ‘blows away the cobwebs’ as my dad would say!

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And to finish it all off we chose to indulge in a wonderful strawberries and cream choux pastry.  I have actually attempted to make choux pastry swans in the rather recent past, and I think my attempt (if it can even be called that) really allowed me to appreciate every little bite of this marvellous treat!  The pastry was crisp and light, and the gloriously sweet cream, combined with the freshest of strawberries really allowed the flavours of this beautiful treat to prevail.  I doubt I’ll be able to walk past Balthazar in the future without popping in to see what lovely French treats are on display for me to enjoy!

Luscious Ladurée

Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe; it has fashion, it has fascinating architecture, but most of all, it has macaroons.  So when I stumbled across the small Ladurée shop and café in the courtyard of Covent Garden, it took no time at all for me to become a regular customer!

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There is something a little bit special about macaroons, with their beautifully coloured delicate shells, which simply crumble into your mouth with every bite.  They are by far the cutest confectionary treat that you can just pop into your mouth when you’re craving something just a little bit sweet!  (Although, if you do this, you are not getting the full macaroon experience in my opinion; you’re missing out on that slight crunch, followed by a prolonged chewy softness that just oozes pure flavour into your mouth that you only considered possible in fairy tales until now!) The macaroon is an experience to be savoured!

As I was (supposed to be) sharing my macaroons with my boyfriend, I only picked out four flavours.  I thought it would be easier to resist eating them all if I’d already tried that specific macaroon; it wasn’t!  Unfortunately, the little leaflet that the waitress gave me detailing all of the flavours is wrong, so I won’t be able to refer to all of them by their official fancy French names, but after savouring each and every beautiful mouthful I can most definitely tell you what flavours they consisted of!

The first macaroon was salted caramel. This sweet little bundle of joy simply oozed its very generous helping of caramel filling into my very ready and welcoming mouth, and as I pulled the macaroon away from my lingering lips I felt the satisfying pull of the ‘gooey’ texture.  I know this sounds like a love story, but that’s because it is! I am officially in love with Ladurée!

Carrying on my sweet little journey, I encountered the rather special strawberry flavoured marshmallow macaroon.  This pink little ball of perfection epitomises exactly how I would imagine food in a Disney princess film to look, taste, and feel! Whilst it did taste a little bit like bubblegum (not that I’m complaining; it only furthered my nostalgic return to my childhood), I thoroughly enjoyed the change in texture with its marshmallow centre creating a slightly thicker and chewier experience than the rest of the macaroons.  Furthermore, the sprinkling of sugar encasing this miniature delight not only made it even sweeter, but also added a nice extra crunch to each bite.

The third macaroon was coffee and chocolate.  This was actually my boyfriend’s favourite.  The chocolate to coffee ratio was absolutely perfect; it had a very distinct, sweet coffee taste, which was followed up by an almost caramel-tasting chocolate flavour, which was reminiscent of the caramel Frappuccinos at Starbucks.  It was certainly a nice pick-me-up in the middle of a busy and stressful afternoon!

Last, but not least, was the chocolate and orange flavoured macaroon.  Far from tasting like normal chocolate orange flavoured confectionaries, which are predominantly chocolatey and simply complemented by a sweet orange flavour, this macaroon created a flavour sensation that was altogether extraordinary in comparison.  The orange macaroon was sharp and tangy, and stood out in contrast to the subtle sweetness of the chocolate filling.  With flavours that were both complimentary and distinctively different, this macaroon was special and confusing all at the same time; a definite unexpected adventure for your taste buds!

However, the pièce de résistance (my love of random French phrases being very appropriate for this post) was the Caramel Apple Macaroon.

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This giant macaroon was an absolute dream.  Even with a fresh, cooked-apple filling, which oozed a creamy surprise in the centre, and a sticky caramel filling sandwiching the whole dessert together, the macaroons retained their beautiful, crumbly crunch without the slightest hint of sogginess (my Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood judging hat came on here)!  And the whole thing was finished off with a ridiculously sweet and crunchy caramel drizzle and tiny apple pieces cooked to perfection to keep with the consistent softness of the whole pudding (apart from when you were ocassionally greeted with the satisfying crunch of the caramel drizzle)!

Whatever you choose as your Ladurée treat, I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed!  Everything is perfected right down to the last little detail on all of their confectionary delights, and I absolutely adore choosing from their massive collection of flavours and desserts every time I find the time and money to visit!  It won’t be a cheap trip, but every mouthful will be worth every penny!

 

Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream Cupcakes!

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Yesterday, one of my best friends and I finished our day at university and the library with a well-deserved trip to the Häagen-Dazs café in Leicester Square.  Whilst I found the concept of an ice cream café quite odd when I first moved to London, especially due to the lack of sea in the capital, I have happily accepted its offering of ice cream-themed desserts with open arms, no matter what the season!  From ice cream sundaes, to pancakes, waffles, and chocolate fondue (all involving ice cream, of course!) the menu has an incredible collection of puddings to choose from.  I know this is a very common theme of my blog posts, but I really couldn’t decide what to have!  However, my decision was made slightly easier by the presence of a particular pudding that seemed pretty unique to me: the ice cream cupcakes.

I have to admit that these cupcakes were an absolute frozen dream and were completely unlike anything else I have ever experienced.  Each one consisted of a freshly baked muffin base, with a layer of indulgent Häagen-Dazs ice cream to complete the cupcake shape, topped with a generous helping of lightly whipped cream, and finished off with a decorative and tasty topping.  Oh, and did I mention that each cupcake had its own saucy little surprise in the centre?!  Quite frankly, they were completely and utterly delicious!

Having spent the whole time going on about how amazing each and every one of these cupcakes were, Carrie asked me to rank them in order of preference.  I simply couldn’t!  They were just all amazing!

I started my ice cream cupcake adventure with the ‘Chocolate Indulgence’, and indulgent it most certainly was!  With a chocolate muffin base, Belgian Chocolate ice cream, and a beautiful chocolate fudge sauce centre, this cupcake was every chocolate lover’s dream.  The combination of the crunchy chocolate balls, on top of the light, fluffy whipped cream, leading to the soft chocolate ice cream and hard muffin base created a beautiful textured adventure.

My adventure continued with the ‘Summer Berry Dream’.  With a delicious blueberry muffin base, sweet Strawberries & Cream ice cream, and a contrasting sharp raspberry coulis centre, each mouthful was an explosion of flavour.  I’ll definitely be craving one of these during the Wimbledon final this year!

The ‘Caramel Delight’ was a bit subtler in flavour than the other two, but, as promised, it was a complete and utter delight.  This time, the chocolate sponge was topped with Salted Caramel ice cream, and there was a butterscotch sauce surprise in the centre.  The nuts were a beautiful addition and really completed the overall taste and quality of this cupcake, as each soft mouthful was completed with a crunch.

After such a wonderful experience, I am already excited for my next visit and can’t wait to try the chocolate fondue!  Let’s face it, if there’s anything that Häagen-Dazs know how to do well, it’s definitely flavoursome puddings!

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Chinese New Year

It would have been almost impossible to miss the festivities of Chinese New Year this weekend in London, as lanterns adorned the streets of Soho and dragons danced through the crowds to the beat of drums.

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On Sunday morning, the crowds flocked to Chinatown, with everyone eager to catch a glimpse of the dragon parade, the lion dancers, and to sample classic Chinese delights from the shops and restaurants that line Gerrard Street.  Having celebrated with a slap-up meal at our favourite Chinese restaurant, Mr. Kong, in Soho the night before, I was very excited to see what traditional treats would be on offer for breakfast the next day.  I have to say, the choice did not disappoint!  There were sweet buns, pork buns and sweet rice cakes to name but a few, and the queues to sample such pleasures tailed down the street.

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For breakfast, I chose the Peanut Twist from Kowloon Restaurant & Cake Shop.  I absolutely adore pastry, and this crumbly, tasty delight was the perfect start to the day, especially as it was so easy to eat whilst wondering around to see what entertainment was available.  The peanut taste was quite subtle and so the pastry didn’t get too heavy too quickly, but you could definitely taste the nuttiness in every mouthful, and it made for an interesting and unusual combo.

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Anyone who missed out on Moon Cake this Chinese New Year missed out on sampling a real traditional Chinese delight, which has grown in its usage as a cake for all Chinese celebrations, but is primarily eaten during the festivities of the Mid-Autumn Festival.  The delicious, decorative crust reveals a thick, rich filling usually made from red bean or lotus seed paste.  Today, I chose the red bean filling, which was being sold outside my favourite bakery in Soho, Golden Gate Cake Shop.  It is very different from the Western cakes which we are used to, in flavour and texture.  The crust is chewy rather than flaky, and the filling is very thick and soft; it isn’t crumbly in the slightest and is almost like a sweet savoury dish.  It is something that I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in trying traditional Chinese delicacies, and I’m excited for next year’s festivities so I can try a different filling!

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Chinese New Year in London was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that gave us Brits (and all the other nationalities that make up the diverse population of London) a glimpse into traditional Chinese culture.

This girl and her gorgeous Chinese dress really was one of my favourite sites of the day.

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Peyton and Byrne

Peyton and Byrne is one of my favourite places to grab a quick bite to eat in London.  With its Covent Garden bakery less than a 5 minute stroll from my university campus, it is the perfect place to catch up with friends over a hot drink, a delicious cake and a sausage roll.  (I can promise you now, the sausage roll is mandatory!)

It seems absolutely mad that I would have missed out on such a wonderful little place if it hadn’t been for my new flatmate, Lizzie.  Lizzie probably loves cake as much as I do (and her mum is a complete legend who sends us freshly baked home made goods straight to our door)!  So one shopping trip we decided to make a future lunch date at Peyton and Byrne after Lizzie wondered up to it all excitedly saying, ‘ohh a new bakery, I love bakeries!’

I’m not going to lie, I was rather excited about this lunch date.  Just from looking at all of the cakes in the window I knew I was going to be spoilt for choice.  But it wasn’t until I actually walked through the door that I realised just how incredible this place was.  There is literally freshly baked goods everywhere!  The window display cabinets are full of a wide range of cakes, all different flavours and sizes; there are fresh salads piled high; a cabinet of hot sausage rolls, tarts and pies; sandwiches made from artisan bread and exploding with fillings – the list is literally endless.  But everything just looks completely and utterly fresh.  And completely and utterly delicious.  Sometimes I regret just how incredibly delicious everything is because I absolutely adore trying new foods and new flavours, but ever since my first couple of visits I’ve actually developed my own little regular order: a chocolate milk fairy cake, a warm sausage roll, and a piping hot elderflower & ginger tea.  Maybe next time I’ll broaden my horizons and report back with even more recommendations!

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On my first visit to Peyton and Byrne I only had one item from my now regular order, which was the sausage roll.  Given how much prevalence I have given to sausage rolls on my blog so far, I think I might as well turn this into a cake and sausage roll blog.  I’m not even a massive sausage roll fan (although that might just be from my experiences of my mum taking me to Gregg’s to shut me up on shopping trips when I was younger – I’m not even sure if what they put in their sausage rolls even constitutes as meat :/ ).  However, Peyton and Byrne put the savour in savoury.  There is no doubt in my mind that you will wish to savour every little piece of this soft, juicy and flaky sausage roll.  A few weeks ago I referred to the sausage roll at Tart as one of the best I’d ever had, and this sausage roll is precisely why it was only ‘one of the best’.  The flavour of the herbs, the juiciness and quality of the meat and the thickness of the soft, flaky pastry – it all just combines to create one divinely tasty sausage roll that you will find it hard to resist, especially when its golden exterior glows at you from the heated display cabinet that the waiter happens to be standing behind as you order!

Unfortunately, for a bakery that has such a high reputation for its coffee (my boyfriend literally raves about their cappuccinos), I was slightly disappointed with the cappuccino and walnut cake that I had chosen from their window display.  Whilst it was a perfectly nice cake, with a good firm but soft sponge and a delectably sweet and creamy topping, I prefer my coffee cakes to be much stronger in flavour.  The taste of coffee was faint at best.  But the textures of the firm sponge, the smooth, soft, creamy icing, and the crunchy crumbled nuts on top were beautiful and every little crumb made its way into my mouth.

Whilst I couldn’t work out if I was disappointed or not with my cake, Lizzie absolutely loved her chocolate milk fairy cake.  It was possibly this slight feeling of food envy that made my return to Peyton and Byrne so quick.  Within a week or so I had to go back, especially now that I knew that they did takeaways, and purchase a sausage roll for my library session and one of these beautiful works of art that Lizzie had given me a running commentary of, rating it in comparison to her favourite cakes from Bea’s of Bloomsbury.

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This cake is Peyton and Byrne’s prize possession, which is possibly why they keep them so close to the till.  If I worked in the presence of these cakes all day, I’d want to keep my beady eye on them to make sure there was one left for me to take home that night!  You’re going to have to believe me when I say that it is very rare for me to rave about chocolate cake.  I absolutely love chocolate, but I think it is actually quite hard to get a chocolate cake completely and utterly right.  Sometimes it’s too indulgent, with lashings of rich chocolate fudge icing, and sometimes it’s a bit dry and bland.  But this chocolate milk cupcake is pretty close to being perfect.  Its sponge is so moist and has the perfect amount of chocolatey flavour.  And to make it even better, it has little bursts of chocolatey goodness in every mouthful due to the melted chocolate chips that are laced throughout.  But then the milk-flavoured frosting completely mellows every mouthful with its contrasting taste, and the creaminess allows it all to just melt in your mouth.  I have absolutely no hesitations in referring to this as the best chocolate cake I have ever had.  The balance of all of the flavours is literally flawless.  This chocolate milk cupcake is the perfect library or office pick-me-up for those long days spent slogging in front of a computer.  And let’s face it, with all the coursework deadlines and exams fast approaching, I’m going to need a LOT of pick-me-ups over the next few months (and celebration cakes too, of course)!