Cocomaya, London

Delicious spread & Faisy

Who did I take for cake? Fay, Designer extraordinaire

What did we talk about? Handcuffs, sushi, Sri Lanka, eating in the dark, Alan

The damage? Approx. £23

There are two types of people in this world – those who run like clockwork and those who run late. A dedicated member of the latter camp, I ran late before I could walk. That’s right kids; this little lady shimmied out of her mother’s womb two weeks overdue and without a care in the world. Although in hindsight I had no business being so relaxed – I looked like a frickin JAUNDICED WALNUT for gawd’s sake.

A casual approach to timekeeping has remained my trademark ever since. Yet despite years spent toiling away, flying the tardy flag over and over like a damn prole, I have always been more ‘make-your-friends-irate’ than ‘fabulously- fashionably-late’. Rather like the neon orange and green cycling shorts I insisted upon for the whole of 1992, I have never quite managed to make this look work. But there are those that do. Remember the white rabbit? He who sang: ‘I’m late, I’m late for a very important date’ before disappearing into Wonderland with Alice hot on his cottontail?

This long-eared albino managed to pull off being late for one date with such pizzazz that he gained another en route. A pretty blonde in a well-starched frock literally abandoned all that she knew to shimmy down a darkened pit after him. I mean, I know he looked dapper in a waistcoat but come on! I can only assume it was his lateness that took animal magnetism underground.

With no rabbit hole or magnetism to speak of, when I find myself running late for my best friend’s already belated birthday tea (oh, the blistering irony) my only option is to throw money at the situation.

When Fay and I finally meet (½ hour later than planned) I guiltily thrust a little bottle of pink fizz at her like some greasy love rat of a husband fervently pressing service station flowers into the hands of his wife, having spent the last 23 months bumping uglies with his PA. Fay looks delighted but not at all surprised. Having known me since I was six months old the poor lamb is used to my turning up at all hours with all manner of olive branches and pathetic expressions.

We opt for a Hyde Park bench as the place to enjoy our pre-cake poison and are soon shrieking with laughter as we swap tales of new scrapes and reminisce over old. I am feeling better about my conduct already. Yes, I was late but I have surely more than redeemed myself via the proffering of pink liquid loveliness. Yes, we may be sitting outside under a grey sky that is spitting at us but heck! I’ve been clever enough to ensure that our bench is sheltered from the sky phlegm by a dear old tree. Friends like me don’t come along everyday. Fay looks like she’s having a GREAT time.

Suddenly I am aware of a shift in my best friend’s facial expression. Rapture has turned to revulsion. I look to where she is pointing in mute horror, and my eyes fall upon the massive pile of stale sick that is festering about two centimetres away from my right shoe. We hurriedly abandon ship. Thank you previous bench tenant for your remarkable ability to eat and project, oh I don’t know, SEVEN different curries. And thank you captain brain for being as perceptive as ever when choosing where you and your best friend should sit to drink the booze you brought because you were being a twat and running late to buy her belated birthday cake because you couldn’t make her actual birthday. Yeah. Nice one brain.

Thankfully, when we make it to Cocomaya there is no hurried curried vulgar vom in sight. We head straight to the Cocomaya Fine Chocolatier (there is also a Cocomaya Artisan Bakery next door) and it is like stepping into an opulent, feminine bubble of beauty. Two long, rectangular tables sit in the centre of a vibrant fuchsia and lime coloured room, one dripping with mesmorising chocolates of every texture/shape/colour imaginable (my favourite are the powder pink skulls) and the other surrounded by a gaggle of stylish ladies laughing, shrieking and tucking into a bevy of exquisite looking cakes. Anarchy appears to be the order of the day (precisely what one would expect from a joint founded by Serena Rees, of legendary lingerie emporium Agent Provocateur) and we want a piece of the action. Alas, it is not to be.

With no room at the chocolaty inn we are ushered into the neighbouring bakery, which is a smaller, more sedate affair comprising muted décor and hushed atmosphere. Goodbye rock n roll funtimes, helloooo paint the town magnolia. The bakery offers the same ‘all patrons share one table’ set-up except here the table is rounded and compact. I imagine the room has been designed with sophistication and exclusivity in mind but in a tiny space with none of next door’s high jinks, or even any music, it just feels a bit awkward – particularly if you prefer cake and conversation to lunching in a library with a bunch of strangers trying not to make eye contact or, heaven forbid, breath too loudly.

Fay and I do not help the scenario. The thing with growing up with someone is that you never quite get round to doing the growing up part. Any reunion between Fay and I also invariably marks a reversion back to our cheeky, 8 year old selves and, as a roomful of people being all grown up and silent is like catnip to the mischievously minded, our barrage of inappropriate comments and giggling means that a mere five minutes after we sit down, the woman next to us retreats to the other end of the table. She is I regret to inform you, not alone in her actions…

Despite the fact that our behaviour is evidently more suited to the riotous chocolatier, or better yet, a zoo for animals with ADHD and a zest for E numbers, the bakery staff remain seamlessly professional and utterly charming. While one bespectacled man bestows excellent cake recommendations upon us, a younger chap diligently prepares our tea. When all is settled afore us, there is no denying the beauty of the scene – four darling cakes laid out on pretty plates flanked by tiny golden cups of flower tea literally looks like something Tinkerbell might chow down upon on Midsummer’s day.

Are you sitting down? I only ask because it is at this point my dear little sprigs of sugar-blossom that I must break from my narrative to deliver a SHOCK CONFESSION. That’s right, a SHOCK CONFESSION. Although, given my earlier musings perhaps it is less SHOCK and more bleeding, blindingly obvious. Nevertheless, here goes: I am writing this review much, much later than I should be. So late that I now can’t remember exactly what we ate. So late that the scrap of paper upon which I had recorded this vital information is long gone – lost forever in the ether that is my bedroom. Any hopes of a factual or even vaguely reliable depiction of what adorned my plate and bedded down in my belly must be snuffed.

All that is left for me to do now is to tell you that there was most definitely a creamy, dreamy cheesecake involved and some sort of scrumptious, crunchy meringue jobby. My tea consisted of brewed rosebuds and Fay was so enamored with one of the cakes that she described it as being like “sex in her mouth” (it might have been at this point that the lady next to us withdrew). Aside from this and apart from impressing upon you that I remember it all to be absolutely delicious there is really not much more I can say – sorry sausages but that’s the best I can do. You and your taste bud army are just going to have to make this trip for yourselves… Well, come on! What you waiting for? Hup, two, three, four! You wouldn’t want to be late now, would you?

Chocs & bottles

Roll up, roll up for a Berlin holiday special!

I have a plan… that’s right mofos, a PLAN. Bigger than Stan, tastier than flan, meet my new exciting Plan; Gooooooo plan! Like most top inventors, my flash of genius came to me in the bath. Day two of last week’s trip to Berlin and in addition to getting clean, I was having a mull over all the foodstuffs I had gobbled in the past 48 hours. With a list nearly as long as Bruce Forsyth, it dawned on me just how much I have in common with the average sheep. That is when placed in pastures new, we like to eat our way around them.

I start to think about how great it would be if, every time I was to jet away on a getaway (or should that be put-away, seriously its like I don’t come up for air) I would first glue a knife and fork to my fists. Then, just like Edward Scissor Hands, who was perma-poised to cut excellent topiary, Jessie Forky Hands would be perma-poised to attack the culinary delights of foreign lands. There and then. Large and in charge. Stainless steel limb extensions glinting in the midday sun.

As the bathwater begins to go cold, so does my plan. Particularly when I remember that possessing hands means I am already naturally perma-poised to attack the culinary delights of foreign lands without any need for cutlery at all. With the likelihood of Duncan Bannatyne weeping at my feet over the untold beauty of my business acumen diminishing by the second, I decide to cheer myself up with giant slabs of cake at Café Bravo. And no, since you ask, I did not utilise their elegant cutlery and my favourite red hair band to try and create Jessie Forky Hands under the table, just to see what she’d be like. No siree. Not at all.

Café Bravo

Cakes and Dolf

Who did I take for cake? Dolf, a most excellent travel companion

What did we talk about? Snow, art, leopard print beds, squats, sandwiches

The damage? 12 euros

Located in the courtyard of Kunst-Werke, Berlin’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Café Bravo is uber-modern, uber-stylish and made entirely of glass (naturally). Turns out it’s quite hard to find a glass door in a glass wall and so the café’s achingly trendy patrons (of which there are many) get to watch as we shuffle around outside in the snow trying to gain entry. Ten minutes later, I am feeling as thick as the (very thick) snow but at last we make it inside. Perhaps they named it Bravo in recognition of how difficult it is to get in the darn thing. I certainly wouldn’t extend this self-congratulatory moniker to their cake.

I’m not being bitter. Ok, I admit that my day has not been the best. Not only have I been forced to suffer the goddamn biting indignity of my own hands (my own hands) shafting my one chance of riotous success, obscene wealth and name in lights (what? Jessie Forky Hands would have made a GREAT film), but I have now been forced to suffer the goddamn biting indignity of not being able to get in a door. For a long time. In front of a lot of people. I am literally willing this cake to be good. If the cake is good everything will be tickity boo once more but alas dear reader, it is not. Cafe Bravo cake may look the part, but it is as dry as bone – pure bimbo on a plate.

What did we order? Well, we went for apfelkutchen und tarte mit frischen trauben und cranberries und cappuccinos. That’s apple cake and flan with fresh grapes and cranberries and an Italian coffee drink made with hot milk and steamed-milk foam to the unacquainted. I opt for cream with my apfelkutchen and despite initial disappointment that it comes from squirty stock, it turns out to be a mouth-saver. The unwise decision to bake a very dry sponge and then scrimp on the only ingredient providing any moisture – the apple, means that without this whippy lube, little swallowing would’ve been occurrin’. It was a similar story with the flan, which unfortunately came sans creamy salvation on the side.

We could’ve left these desert-like desserts and our saliva glands would’ve rejoiced but we soldier on, and not just because I can’t remember how to get out again. In spite of its arid baked goods, the sharp architecture and relaxed ambience of the place means Café Bravo is definitely worth employing a bit of the old British stiff upper lip for, and besides nothing really matters on holiday does it? Keep calm and carry on, that’s what I say.

Cafe Bravo and crumbs

Café Einstein

strudel and Cafe Einstein

Who did I take for cake? Dolf (lucky boy)

What did we talk about? filmstars, newspapers, bad photos, ways to stay awake

The damage? 16 euros

Well what do you know? Our apple strudel looks gross and so do we. It is the evening after the night before and you are what you eat has never rang truer. Mere shadows of our former selves (former selves last seen pounding the dance floor to staggeringly loud techno at Beghain, Berlin’s supremely hedonistic nightclub, surrounded by wide-eyed club kids dressed in kaleidoscopic leotards and beefy men ½ naked and spanking one another) we arrive at Café Einstein on a mission.

Despite minimal sleep we are hell-bent on staying awake. To slip away into shuteye on our last day here seems almost disrespectful. The very least we can offer the city responsible for such a multitude of treasured memories in such a modest amount of time (5 days), is our undivided attention. Berlin, you sexy urban sprawl, I’m hanging on in there as long as I can. Sleep? Ha. I laugh at such slumber mumbo-jumbo. Who needs sleep? All together now: don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball…

I’m also wilting. Having made it to early evening, we now require an activity that involves little effort and absolutely no intellectual clout. It needs to provide warmth (I’m freezing more bits off than I knew I had) and enough sustenance to see us through till dinner. Summoning the last of our strength we have typed ‘best ever apple strudel Berlin’ into a computer box. It recommends heading straight to Café Einstein, so here we are. At this stage in the game, it could’ve recommended heading straight to the armpit of a morbidly obese 83 year old with a yeast infection and I probably would’ve. Right now, I am happy to let the great Wide Web of the World decide my fate, anything involving having to actually make decisions myself seems evil.

Which is precisely why it is so unfair that our strudel rocks up looking as it does. I have no way of knowing whether I’m to laugh or cry at this pastry island, marooned in the midst of a neon yellow ‘vanilla cream’ sea. It looks a mess, I know that much. Not wanting to be the pot that calls the kettle black however, I dig in.

It tastes like a dream. So much so that I am moved to administer a quick pinch test, can I really still be awake? This is SO good! I inhale my share in seconds, pleased as punch with pastry that strikes just the right balance between crispy and soft and the generous coat of icing sugar. The stewed apple and raison filling and thick vanilla cream (read custard) is just so comforting. In a complete turnaround from Bravo, where the cakes looked the part but failed to deliver the goods, Einstein has produced a plate that looks minging but right now tastes almost ethereal. I can’t believe it. Nothing here is what it seems. Perhaps this is why Berlin is considered edgy.

Mission Pre-Dinner Perk-Up firmly accomplished, we head back outside to the below freezing temperatures. Bundled up in my big sheepskin coat (I TOLD you we have so much in common) with a bright red nose and sleepy eyes, I may look somewhat bedraggled but with my favourite hand entwined in mine and Einstein’s strudel in my belly, I feel anything but.

mothership and all gone

Bridge Cafe, London

Lady Lamp and Bex

Who did I take for cake? Bex, Intrepid Journalist (above right)

What did we talk about? Friends in far places, poetry, crushes, exams, operations, being fed spaghetti, Brighton

The damage? £10.10 (round 1) £7.00 (round 2)

‘I wish I lived here’ was the first thing to pirouette through my mind as I stepped into the Bridge Café and to be honest, I can’t report much let up from these five little words since. The only difference now is that a letter ‘t’ has nestled in and the yearning that swoops restlessly about my grey matter is ‘I wish I lived there. I wish I lived there’.

There is no let up when I sleep. TV presenter and pasta sauce oligarch, Loyd Grossman has hijacked my subconscious wanderings and regardless of whether I am dreaming about embarrassed ponies or bears riding mobility scooters, he will rock up brandishing an oversized keyhole.

We will stand and leer at one another Through The Keyhole for a while and then just when it’s getting a bit voyeuristic and weird and I start wondering if Loyd’s been working out, he will suddenly bellow, ‘ Now whoooo lives in a cahfaay loik this?’ his transatlantic tones stretching out the syllables as if they are made of elastic or taste of trifle, or both (mmmmm stretchy trifle). This then seems to be my cue to start jumping around like a ferret in need of a wee, squealing ‘me, me! That would be me Lloyd!’ whilst shoving Chelsea buns in my face.

None of this is my fault. The Bridge Café really is very special. At just 7 weeks young, the new kid on the Dalston block is a bohemian wet dream, especially upstairs. Warm and cosy, its walls are lined with old film posters, the chairs are rococo, the music wonderful and every spare surface is adorned with curious objects such as old clocks and phrenology hands. Each table is different, light comes courtesy of jewel coloured Tiffany-style lamps, brass eagles perch atop coffee machines, the vintage till is sublime, the food and drink excellent value, and the staff already know nearly every customer by name. Oh sorry. Would somebody be so kind as to mop up my drool? I appear to be salivating everywhere again.

What’s got me hooked is that the adoration was instant. There is little more lovely than stepping into some place new or laying eyes on some face new and things just feeling right. More than right. When we stumble across a new home away from home, soulmate or great friend to be, things just begin to make sense.

Having polished off a mille feuille pastry and tea (me) and a cheese and spinach slice with couscous salad and coffee (Bex), all of which was delicious, we slipped off into the night for poetry and dancing. A wonderful evening but one which did see my camera stolen and all of my Bridge Café snaps, lost.

Three days later, Bex and I returned to re-shoot, this time using her camera. Exam revision (Bex) and a long journey home (me) meant this was to be an in and out job. Time was of the essence, until… well, until we stepped through the door and fell in love all over again. Two bowls of steaming soup and a mountain of cloud-like foccacia were ordered as, smiling, we re-climbed the stairs. Time still of the essence but in a different way now, we sat and talked and slurped and talked and slurped some more. Happy, content, home.

Till and Cakes

Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Park

Pembroke and Dolf

Who did I take for cake? Dolf, Project Coordinator of a solar power events company and my boyfriend (above right)

What did we talk about? Ducks, porridge, shoes, snoring, Bristol

The damage? £4.20

I like to think I do more than I do. To my mind, I’m the sort who regularly goes for wholesome walks, knocks up mango chutneys, knows her times tables and brushes her hair. In truth I rarely do any of these things and more often than not my weekends pass by in a haze. But last Sunday was different. Call it 2010 madness or guilt that my New Years celebrating had spanned five days (excessive? Moi?), but I woke up, brushed my barnet and promptly took myself off to Richmond Park for a ramble. Ok, so I didn’t bash out any chutneys, discover what lies beyond 2 x 2 or consider suitable footwear but…BABY STEPS PEOPLE.

It would be nice to say that I was won over instantly by the vast landscape afore me, its pastoral poetry so pure that it spoke to my very bones, but that would be a lie. I don’t mean the landscape was unworthy of a drum roll (or even of an eternal drum roll – it really is enchanting) but in truth, the first thing that struck me was the park map and its deliciously eccentric place names.

Hopping evermore excitedly from foot to foot, my finger fell upon Leg-Of-Mutton Pond, Killcat Corner and Spankers Hill Wood. It was as if I had stepped into an Enid Blyton wonderland and Dick and Fanny would be appearing any mo with lashings of ginger beer and more scotch eggs than you could shake a stick at. I would probably still be stood there now, gabbling, had Dolf not led me gently away to see the REAL nature, the stuff which exists beyond the signboard, and what we had got out of bed for…

Turns out the best thing about walking, aside from the views, exercise and sense of overall wellbeing, is that it gives you an appetite. And if one happs to be walking in Richmond Park, it is Georgian mansion, Pembroke Lodge where one goes to sate one’s bellybox (dahling).

While the Lodge may be very pretty to look at and have very pretty views to look out at, when it comes to the crunch or more precisely, the cake, one cannot afford to be whimsical, and my baked pecan and caramel cheesecake, with limp crust and complete lack of bite to its base, tasted, well it tasted a bit (hold the drum roll here)…shop bought. A good nosey at the other cakes (including lemon, and baileys and ameretto gateau) did nothing to convince me the same would not be true of these also.

I’d love it if Pembroke Lodge started serving homemade cakes, ripped out the dodgy carpets, replaced the plastic tables and offered more choice of tea, giving itself the chance to become a celebrated foodie destination, instead of just a park pit-stop inside a charming building. But as the place was absolutely heaving – thanks to its location, location, location, I’ll be surprised if this ever occurs.

Making our way happily out of the Royal Park, I looked up to see the sun was also going out on a high, leaving a dreamy tangle of sherbert oranges, dusky pinks and mellow violets, her dying rays dancing across the dark Thames. I hadn’t seen a sunset like it in a long time. Too long.

Who knows? Perhaps 2010 will be the year for wholesome walks, mango chutneys, times tables and best of all, sunsets. Although you can keep your hair brushing, I remain unconvinced about that.

Cheesecake and Sun

The Museum of Everything Cafe, London

Penelope & Lauren

Who did I take for cake? Lauren, Stylist/Designer (above right) and Penelope Stardust, Pony (above left)

What did we talk about? Leopards, creepers, rings that turn your fingers green, sandwiches, sinuses, girls with willies a la Henry Darger

The damage: £2 donation

I’ve got a bone to pick with Donald Trump who once remarked ‘if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big’. Having visited the Museum of Everything’s café where modesty prevails with super endearing results, I am inclined to disagree. Donny T may be rolling in the mega monies and possess the most mesmorising bouffant since Diana Ross (its like mohair I tell you, MOHAIR) but I’m putting my foot down. Staunchly. Simple pleasures are simply not to be sniffed at.

On the menu at this little café, situated with the museum in an old dairy, there is tea and toast and jam and hot chocolate and juice and biscuits and… that’s it. And that is all that there needs to be. Just as not every ride needs pimping, neither does every afternoon tea.

Free of the trappings of too-much-choice-itis, Lauren and I are equipped with biscuits and tea as quickly as you can say whippersnapper. The two trestle tables are heaving, so having fed our donations to the jar, we head to a row of fold-up chairs and appoint one of the malleable chaps as our table.

To the untrained eye, our spread may not look much. This eye might see five shop-brought biscuits and two cups of tea you wouldn’t get much more of a slurp out of, served on mismatched china that has seen better days. It would consider our ‘table’ shoddy, the peeling paint unforgiveable and the scruffy plastic pony flanking the whole sorry affair, ridonkulous. Look a little closer though, and a microcosm of magic is revealed.

The cups aren’t small, they’re dainty. The china may be mismatched but oh, wouldn’t it be dull if everything matched perfectly ALL of the time? The chipped edges are not shameful but miniscule badges of honour. That chipped plate/dish/bowl/whatever you’ve got sitting in your kitchen cupboard is a SURVIVOR. Yes siree. That’s one hardy little hero you’ve got hanging on in there.

Shop-brought biscuits might not be sophisticated but they are nostalgia in a mouthful, and very few of life’s blows are not softened by them. Heartbreak, homework and hair removal are all infinitely more manageable with a hob nob to hand.

There is no ‘scruffy green pony’ but the great wit and horse about town, Penelope Stardust. This mint coloured minx is supremely well-connected, with hooves in many a pie and is an absolute must for any self-respecting tea party. Yes, particularly when you are 25 years old.

Simple is after all, what you make it and therein kids, lies the beauty. Down with stargazing and complexities, lets marvel in the modest and say hoorah for the humble and (for this week at least) let the bigger picture take care of itself.

Down Penelopes Cakehole

sketch at the Royal Academy, London

Who did I take for cake? Keren, Creative Director and my mum (above right)

What did we talk about? Anniversary presents, Christmas, 1984, portraits

The damage: £18.85

I am in love with a Cardinal. As round as he is tall, the yang to my yin has a complexion of boiled beetroot and a penchant for snazzfabulous headgear. A bona fide Hollywood moment, I recall the intricacies of our first meeting with more clarity than I do my address…

It all begins as these things so often do, in a bid to escape the winter winds. Fed up with them whipping us along Piccadilly, mum and I sensibly decide to seek solace in afternoon tea. With the Royal Academy’s brand new sketch pop-up café just moments away, it feels rude not to.

We greet the towering cake stand like an old friend and set about piling our paper plates with Pecan Chocolate Brownies, Grapefruit Cake and more. It is as we turn to add tea to the equation that Captain Cupid’s arrow strikes. For under the vast, glass tea counter lies the Cardinal. Surrounded by an assortment of equally exquisite bedfellows, the Peacocks of the cake world are within my grasp.

I start to get excited. So far the sketch pop-up has ticked a number of boxes:

smiley staff
hot pink walls
offbeat touches (books sit next to brie in the chiller cabinets)
a chandelier made entirely of old ladies’ specs.

It is the cake that hasn’t made waves. Until now. After hastily liberating my crush from his glassy confines, along with a Valrhona, a chocolate/hazelnut combo that has tiny people printed onto it (oh joyous details!); we take our paper cups of steaming English Breakfast and sit to devour.

At £4, the Cardinal is a pricier affair than the old cake standonians, which range from 65p – £2 but well worth it. Much more than just a pretty blackcurrant macaroon, it has style and substance in equal measure. The violet mousseline filling is a perfect, floaty partner for the chewy macaroon and a tart blackcurrant marmalade balances out the sweetness with aplomb.

The Pecan Chocolate Brownie is another serious contender: dark, velvety and comforting, I prefer it to the more expensive but too-sweet Valrhona. Mum is won over by the Ginger Cake’s subtle smokiness and I, charmed by the Grapefruit. Although I must point out to any die-hard grapefruit groupies currently chomping at the citrusy bit, that I enjoy this precisely because it tastes nothing like grapefruit.

As for the rosy lee? Well. While it isn’t ideal serving the brown stuff in paper take-away cups when we are not taking it away but in fact taking tea (goddammit), it is just not cricket to then leave the bag lurking in the bottom, without so much as a string to suggest its creeping, sodden presence.

Likewise, the disposable cutlery irks. Sheep in wolves clothing, the knives may look like knives but these lambs weren’t made for slicing. More importantly, the prevalence of the disposable seems at odds with the cafe’s stated sustainability bent. Granted, there are recycling points and the cutlery may be biodegradable, but if it is, this isn’t made clear and it is here that the pop-up trips-up.

There until the end of Earth on 31 Jan (the RA exhibition, not the planet), I recommend catching this playful café while you can.

Who knows? You might just fall in love…

Tea & cake