Yumchaa

This week, I had the pleasure of being introduced to a gorgeous little tea room in central London called Yumchaa.  Hidden just around the corner from Goodge Street station, it specialises in loose tea leaves and has a counter decorated with all sorts of wonderful foods, from paninis and scones to cakes and brownies.  And the best thing about this beautiful café is that they are so adventurous with their flavours!  Their teas range from Jasmine and Enchanted Forest (a vibrant blend of blueberry, rhubarb, raspberry and blackberry), to Chilli Chilli Bang Bang and Lemon Sherbet.  I sampled a pot of Caramel Sweetheart and a deep romance was formed with just the first sip!

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As a lover of all things edible, however, it was the food that really stole my heart.  I fell head over heels for their warm feta and olive scone, which was so moist and perfectly baked that it simply crumbled straight into my mouth.  It was a great warm and filling meditteranean-inspired treat that was the perfect accompaniment to the light, smooth caramel tones of my choice of tea.  However, one can never have too much sweetness in their life and I could not resist trying a slice of one of their fabulous looking cakes!

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I went for a generous slice of their banana and nutella cake.  I can think of nothing better than a combination of bananas and nutella in a cake and I was not disappointed by my choice!  The banana cake was deliciously thick and tasty, whilst the swirls of nutella added a soft, smooth, chocolatey moistness to the whole cake.

I honestly cannot wait for my next tea date with friends to try some of their Christmas offerings, such as their Red Christmas tea with its chocolate and gingerbread flavours!  I’m sure there will be lots of festive food available as well!  With its comfy sofas and ample wooden table and chair seating, this place is the perfect spot to meet with friends or chill with a cup of hard-earned tea after some hardcore London christmas shopping.  You will not regret a visit to this fabulous London tea room, where tea is at the heart of everything they do.

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!

My Home Made Valentine’s Afternoon Tea

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This Valentine’s Day I decided to make my boyfriend afternoon tea.  He’d never had afternoon tea before, and I’ve never really wanted to suggest we go for afternoon tea because it is really expensive (especially as we are students) and I’ve always worried that he would be underwhelmed by sandwiches, a scone, and a few cakes considering the cost.  However, in creating my own version of afternoon tea, filling each layer with food he adores, I truly learnt exactly how much time and effort goes into creating something that seems so simple, and just how much potential there is for it all to go horribly wrong!

I have to admit that the bottom layer was the least of my worries.  Whilst most afternoon tea specialists provide cute little cucumber sandwiches, I had long decided that my boyfriend would much prefer mini bacon & cheese burgers, hot dogs, and fried halloumi bites.  This was also by far the easiest layer, as all I had to do was cut up a block of halloumi cheese and fry it; boil some frankfurters, which were then cut in half to fit into the mini buns; and make mini burgers by mixing beef mince, chopped parsley and garlic together.  Also, these only took 5 minutes to fry.  Unsurprisingly, this was my boyfriend’s favourite layer, and he has raved about our ‘fast food themed afternoon tea’ ever since!

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The second tier was also very much centred around my boyfriend, especially as I had no idea whether he liked scones or not and I was not prepared to do afternoon tea without them!  His favourite chocolate bar is Twix, and so I decided to make chocolate chip scones and serve them with chocolate ganache and caramel sauce in order to create a ‘Twix Scone’.  (The caramel sauce, as you can see in the picture, turned out rather dark because I had to use dark muscavado sugar rather than brown sugar, but it still tasted delicious.)  These were a big hit, even though he admitted that he didn’t think he would like them, so I was very happy!

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My favourite tier, obviously, was the top tier.  This tier took the longest to make.  In fact, the whole thing took me 7 or 8 hours!  The sweet tier consisted of gingerbread men decorated with regal icing to look like us, heart-shaped chocolate fudge cakes, banana splits, and orange meringues.  The banana splits were actually the hardest to make out of all the desserts, as they required hollowing, but keeping the outside intact, so that the filling, which was a blend of condensed milk and banana pulp, did not spill out.  I also found that it is easy to avoid the mess and time of making meringues by buying a carton of readily prepared egg whites (I ordered mine from Waitrose).  The hardest part of making everything was the sheer volume of food that I was making and the time constraint in making it.  I messed up the ingredients on nearly every single recipe (for example, I completely forgot about the buttermilk in the chocolate fudge cakes, I added twice the amount of orange I was supposed to in the meringues, and those bananas were my fourth or fifth attempt)!  Luckily, everything still managed to taste great though!  It can actually be quite stressful trying to get everything done in time, as well as to a good standard.  Restaurants may have teams of chefs working on different aspects of their afternoon teas, but I can honestly say that after making my own I can fully respect, and, in the future, will take the time to appreciate, the time and effort that goes into each and every little detail of every afternoon tea.

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!

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)!