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:
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…