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!

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Bea’s Teas – A Tasty Guarantee

Afternoon Tea at Bea’s of

Bloomsbury, St Paul’s

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I love Bea’s of Bloomsbury.  I was introduced to Bea’s small, but wondrous collection of cafés by my flatmate, Lizzie. It was almost like a flatmate bonding session; as soon as she found out that I love cake (love possibly being a complete understatement) she excitedly exclaimed, “Ooooh, have you been to Bea’s of Bloomsbury?!  They do THE best cupcakes!  And Duffins!”  And after a slice of Guinness Chocolate cake on my first visit I was pretty much sold.

So last weekend Lizzie and I decided that there was no better way to start our Saturday evening of wining and dining (a.k.a. cake followed by glorious cocktails in the Radio rooftop bar on the Strand) than indulging in a delectable afternoon tea at the St Paul’s venue.  As we walked past the giant floor-to-ceiling glass windows that lead to the entrance, adorned with celebratory hearts in preparation for Valentine’s Day, we got rather excited, discussing our double-date plans for the following weekend!  The excitement continued as we were led straight to our table where our afternoon tea was ready and waiting for us and we were handed a generous menu of teas to choose from.  Our waitress possibly underestimated just how hungry we were when we arrived (and my impatience to order as I had eyed up the last few Duffins sitting behind the counter as we had walked through the door), as we had nearly finished our sandwiches by the time she came back to take our order and we could not move onto the scones without ordering our tea, as the clotted cream and jam are delivered at the same time as the tea.  However, I cannot fault the service for the rest of the evening, as they did give me my Duffin for free as an apology for taking so long and forgetting it the first time round, and they were very attentive as to whether we needed our tea topping up for the rest of our stay.

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The afternoon tea itself was completely faultless.  To start with, the mini baguettes were super fresh, simple, and tasty, with a lovely Mediterranean feel to them, with a choice of mozzarella, tomato and pesto or salami and rocket.  The scones were equally gorgeous, although I do prefer scones served warm, but I cannot fault the beautifully crumbly texture and the buttery contrast to the sweet strawberry jam.

However, the true pièce de résistance was the top tier of the cake stand.  Each mouthful brought with it a new taste and each new taste brought with it a little slice of heaven.  There were tasters of three different types of brownies: the rich and sweet Valrhona Chocolate Brownie, the nutty Killer Brownie, and the Belgian Blondie white chocolate brownie.  Whilst the Killer Brownie and Belgian Blondie scored top marks on the taste bud challenge, the absolute winner, hands down, was the Valrhona Chocolate Brownie.  The taste of the dark chocolate was powerful yet deliciously sweet, and each mouthful literally melted in your mouth.  I’m actually glad I don’t pass Bea’s of Bloomsbury on a daily basis, as I’m not sure I could allow myself to walk past without getting one!

The sweet chocolate treat continued in the form of cocoa-dusted meringues that were crunchy and simply delicious.

Quite possibly my favourite part of the afternoon tea was the homemade marshmallows.  Marshmallows like this are extremely rare and the flavours are like nothing you have ever experienced in this soft, gooey form before.  I have only found homemade marshmallows like this once before, in a sweet shop in Bristol, which has unfortunately shut down now, and so this little pink fluffy square took me back to my college days, sitting in class eating passionfruit-flavoured marshmallows and telling everyone that they had to try them!  And I will give exactly the same advice again: you have to try these!  Bea’s of Bloomsbury served us raspberry flavoured marshmallows and the flavour was soft, but distinct.  Their elasticity also made them extremely satisfying to pull apart before placing each piece in your mouth!

The flavour of the marshmallows was very similar to the flavour of the raspberry icing on the vanilla and raspberry cupcake.  Bea’s of Bloomsbury never over-power the flavours, they are always very delicate and subtle and completely and utterly delightful.  The sponge is always perfectly soft and bouncy, and the icing is always piped on exquisitely.  The cupcakes always look like a miniature piece of art, and I have to say the passionfruit and vanilla cupcake tasted like one!  The tiny hearts dusted over the top of the cakes added a lovely crunch in contrast to the soft sponge.  I always find that it is the attention to detail that make a big difference at Bea’s of Bloomsbury and put them slightly ahead of many of their competitors.  This and their baker, Bea, is extremely inventive with her creations!

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Meet the Duffin – a hybrid dessert consisting of a muffin and a doughnut.  My only regret over this incredible invention is that I was already full when I started eating it.  Luckily, however, I have an extremely sweet tooth, and the thick sugar coating only made me crave the sugar more and more.  With each mouthful I was astounded at how the outside was just like a doughnut, especially when you got to the jam centre, and the inside was as soft and fluffy as any muffin you could ever find.  Bea has also invented the Townie – the cross between a tartlet and a brownie, which unfortunately I have not tried yet.  Even if you don’t fancy afternoon tea at Bea’s, which is one of the best-valued in London at only £19 each, you have to go just to enjoy one of these creative, one-of-a-kind treats!  I can assure you now that you will not regret your visit!