Let’s eat cake

It was quite uncanny. Oxford Street was pumping. It seemed that everyone in London chose to do their Christmas shopping yesterday. And they chose Oxford Street. Two minutes away from the mayhem, we found an oasis that made my heart smile: Maison Bertaux.

We’d walked from the busy high street in central London towards Soho. We walked through Soho Square and a block down from the Square, we found this place:

Maison Bertaux - an original in the heart of Soho

We’d talked about stopping somewhere for coffee and I insisted we try this place – it just looked, well, so un-high street.  It looked like a place that had a story to tell. We weren’t disappointed.

This is what we found when we stepped inside.

A little shop of edible treasures
Everything looks like it has a story to tell
Pink scarves and retro wall-lamps

I didn’t know where to look first – at the ornaments, at the writing on the mirrors, at the decor, at the newspaper clipping of Alexander McQueen, at the cakes, the cheeky meringue snowmen with their chocolate-roll sleighs … then we were asked what we wanted to order. I asked for a filter coffee and a cappuccino and was offered the only two coffees they have on offer: a café noir with milk and a café au lait. Being Christmas, we thought it would be rude not to try the homemade mince pies too.

We sat down at one of two tables in the small downstairs area and waited for our order.

I couldn’t stop staring at everything. One of the waiting staff noticed my curiosity.

“There’s so much to look at,” I said.

He said the place was full of stuff from the 140 years the cake shop had existed.

An old photo of the newly-opened Maison Bertaux

“Not sure if you can tell that we have our Christmas decorations up, or not,” he said, wryly.

We found our answer when we spotted a small Christmas tree on the piano.

Near to the Christmas tree was a signed copy of Noel Fielding’s book Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton. A note stuck to the wall suggested there were more where that one came from. Noel is not only a genius, off-beat comedian, but also a regular here.

We chatted to one of the two sisters who own the cake shop. The younger sister of ‘a cross between Margaret Rutherford and Joan of Arc’, she told us the shop had remained the same since its establishment in 1871 – the same cake recipes, everything made fresh – every day – on the premises. She called it not only the oldest cake shop in the country, but also ‘the Ivy of cake shops’ in London, in that it attracts artists, actors and other real celebrities.

“It gets completely mental upstairs sometimes,” she said, as she rattled off names of people who frequent the cake shop.

The old stucco’d walls are grubby and absolutely, antiquely beautiful. The glass shelves behind the counter boast – among ornaments, bottles, scarves and a giant chocolate éclair ornament – a photograph of the shop in its early days. The glass shelves in the window groan with the most beautiful, creative and mouth-watering delights you care to imagine. A stream of white-capped chefs marched through from the kitchen to present their handiwork for the window for the day: trays of fresh-fruit tarts, marzipan figs, gateaux saint-honore, croissants, cakes, éclairs and ‘wormy pies’ (meringues with endless coils of cream). Equally, deliveries of sacks of flour arrived while we were there. It is a working kitchen, for sure.

A taste of Maison Bertaux specialities

We were told about the art on display upstairs. I went to have a quick look at it, but didn’t spend much time as I wanted to leave the few customers up there to enjoy their coffee and books in peace. I also made a quick stop in the ‘wee wee hut’; I was amused and delighted to see the toilet flushed with an ancient pull-chain.

I don’t think much has changed in this gorgeous tea shop since it was established by French communards in 1871. In today’s world of overpriced paper cups filled with have-a-nice-day coffees, and plates filled with cardboard pastries, I was completely entranced by this original gem. So close to the hubbub of the high street yet so far removed in every possible way.

It was pricey, yes, but when you step into an era of genuine tasty quality, creativity and originality in a room full of chaotic, colourful history – what else could you expect? It’s our new favourite tea shop. In the whole world.

Sunshine signing off for today!



32 thoughts on “Let’s eat cake

  1. Wow, what an amazing place! Makes me hungry, Sunshine.

    By the way–she may not bet it, but Sara has been short-listed for a job that would base us in London. If it happens, could I email you a few questions about relocating there and the ins-and-outs about housing?

    In the meantime, Merry Christmas!


    1. How exciting, Kathy! Then you can visit Maison Bertaux and enjoy the treats for yourself! Yes, please feel free to email me any questions … and please keep me posted. Merry Christmas to you and your Sara too xx

  2. Sounds like a MOST wonderful find indeed. One almost wishes the walls could talk but then there appears to be SO much to look at there that it all tells a story on it’s own. Thanks for sharing this with us x

    1. It was, for sure. I think I sat open-mouthed most of the time we were there … too fascinating for words! And obviously there’s a reason it still exists as it always did, and the tasty treats are just a part of it. Loved it so much.

  3. Love this, Sunshine…I do love my baked goods, as you know…this is going on the list of must-visit places if we make it to London!

    Hope you and Mr. S. have a wonderful holiday!


  4. How fun! Oh how I would love to visit that shop and so many other places you have mentioned. I love the yellow wainscoting in the background. I wouldn’t get much eating done with all the looking to do. Have a blessed Christmas, Jeanne

    1. I felt the same way, Jeanne! I was so fascinated by everything – just loved it all! Your list of London places is growing!
      Blessed Christmas to you and your lovely family too, Jeanne xx

  5. Hello Sunshine! Loved this article – felt like I was inside the shop having a good look around! Wishing you a fabulous Christmas and 2012!

  6. –I’d definintely pay more to have coffee & mince pies in this little gem of a place.

    Lovely. Such character. Such history. Only if walls could talk… X

    Perhaps even Dickens had a spot of tea in there!

  7. Oh, Miss Sunshine, you’re singing my song! I LOVED everything about this post! The pictures were fabulous (although I wish there were some close ups of the baked goodies) and your always perfect descriptions made me feel as if I were there with you. I was enjoying my morning coffee as I was reading this and I wanted to reach in an grab a pastry to go with it.

    Have a lovely holiday! We are headed to the coast for our Christmas in a Yurt adventure!

    XO, Patty

    1. Yes, I realised it would have been good to have had some close-ups of the baked goodies – next time! Glad you enjoyed the visit, Patti. Have a wonderful Christmas adventure – it sounds amazing xx

  8. Mmmm, what a delicious experience! Thanks for sharing it with us. That’s just the kind of place where a writer (or anyone, for that matter) could spend an entire day!

  9. WOW this sounds right up my alley!! 🙂 so beautifully written as always; you’ve really made me want to pay a visit to this place! Not only for the cakes + decor but the chance to spy on Noel Fielding… 😀 xxx

    1. Thanks, lovely Andie! And we thought about how much you would have loved it, when we were there – you would have loved the cupcakes especially! And of course you would love to see Noel Fielding – me too! xx

  10. This looks gorgeous! 🙂 I have an award winning tearoom/café that has a traditional English theme at a coastal area about 8 miles from where I live, it has French doors for the front door, and a table positioned looking out those doors towards the sea! I don’t get to go there very often, and they are only open in the summer months. Everyone who works in there is happy, and everything you eat or drink in there is like something from some heavenly realms, absolute perfection, even a slice of toast tastes like toast you’ve never tasted before!

    The Maison Bertaux looks so cosy, I think I could quite happily live in a place like that! Thank you for sharing this information, and if I visit London some time soon, I will make an effort to find it and have some cake!!
    Suzy 🙂

    1. Hi Suzy – your tearoom sounds wonderful. And do visit Maison Bertaux and try their fabulous cakes when you come to London – it’s so worth it! Thanks for visiting my blog.

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