There’s no bakery like our neighbourhood bakery.
I’m thinking this as I munch on an Almond Danish Ring, marvelling that, today, the mock marzipan icing is thicker, almonds and sultanas more generous, and ends crispier than the last time.
This is the magic of the Essex Road Bakery; it always manages to surpass your greatest expectations. Which makes it the Sylvie Guillem of baking. With Sylvie, you know you’re going to see the Best Dancer in the World; for a fact (if you’ve seen her before), and yet your mind is blown away anew. Then you realise the limits of your own imagination: it can’t handle the memory of the complexity of her talent.
I’m afraid to start describing the bakery’s last introduction, the cherry cake (they never tire of introducing the good and the new). Once I buy it, it takes me two days to finish it. Two days of obsession and control. It is like a drug in as much as; a) I know it is in the house and a part of my mind never leaves its dark brown crust, its intense-yolk-yellow centre and its ruby-red syrupped cherries, as abundant as the gems on a maharaja turban. Everything about it is rustic. Its taste is like that of my grandma, the one who died before I was born, and replaced by the imaginary taste of the cake that Little Red Riding Hood carries in her basket through the dark forest covered with a tea towel, and; b) I don’t share it. I hide it in the old microwave, and; c) I have it first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. Addiction it is - obsession, barely controlled. I allow myself only one cherry cake every two weeks. And, me, who doesn’t have a sweet tooth.
Also, rustic tasting, are the cream horns (not the fresh cream ones, the others). The cream tastes the same as that in the horns at the fun-fairy that settled near school and stayed the whole winter of 1981.
From their breads, my favourites are the rustic sourdough and the chia seeds bread. A round multi-seed loaf that we always have at home. For Bank Holidays, we try the walnut, carrot and sultana, olive and sunflower breads.
Here, also, is home to the best self-tailored sandwiches in London. Pick your roll, bap or ciabatta, or your preferred bread: granary, wholemeal, poppy seed, white, and all the seedy ones mentioned above. They then stuff it silly with so many fillings, that you wonder whether they love you more than your mum.
As Steve Hat the Fishmonger is only a few shops away, bountiful and lively prawns could easily have jumped from Devon bay straight into your prawn sandwich.
They have the best of all things: healthy modern breads and rustic cakes, in a classic bakery with normal prices. You won’t see the inflated tags of all the other healthy bakeries or bakers’ stools at trendy artisan markets.
There’s none of the silliness of the hipster sandwich and cake eateries, with their endless queues for food that inevitably looks better than it tastes.
And no irrational half-hour wait for a coffee, only to have a senseless cinnamon heart on the foam, already ten years dépassé. Only black and white pint-sized coffees are served here, coming as quickly as a surprise.
And happy staff! You always know when people are happy. This bakery is never under staffed. Its cupcake-puffy aunties and cheese-sticks thin lads, know what they are doing. They laugh and chat in the nice, almost forgotten, manner of people happy to be where they are and doing what they are doing. No forceful, tight crispy smiles stuck on cheerless faces.
Amongst all this is the owner in a light white hat. He never gives orders and always does more than anyone else: he carries trays, arranges shelves, serves clients, wipes floors, crawls on all fours after dropped change, and runs to restaurants and gourmet pubs to deliver tasty breads and cakes.
When Saturday comes, I wonder who is happier? He to sell to me or me to buy his bag full of goodies from his excellent shop.
25 February 2018