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Pastries this good are never a piece of cake

Published 16 April 2006
News Review
665th article

Michael at Patisserie Valerie with sisters Ciyi and Huiyi Lim (Paola Lombard)

My tape-recorded and transcribed notes are sometimes marvellously helpful and occasionally pathetic.

Here's the first sentence from my musings on Patisserie Valerie in Kensington: "I only got one menu but they are nice and suggested I 'nick' one from another table." Who suggested it? The waiter? The owner? A passing carthorse? Ridiculous.

Anyway, I wanted a quick repast near my house, so the Princess (Paola Lombard) and I entered this posh chain of cake-sellers with tables attached. Other branches include Belgravia, Soho and Marylebone.

I ordered eggs benedict on toasted muffins with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce.

The waiter, very smartly dressed in a striped waistcoat, diamond patterned tie and white apron, asked, "To drink?" I opted for a strawberry and banana smoothie. I do those rather well at home. Paola ordered granary toast with jam and American black coffee with cold milk on the side. Then I decided to add Toulouse sausages, so I went to the counter and ordered some.

A sober looking gent at the next table said, "I thought you normally wrote about more exciting places than this."

"Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't," I replied, adding, "I guess this is exciting to some people." Then I asked him, "Are you Australian?"

"South African," he replied. I can't get everything right.

When her black coffee arrived Paola asked the waiter, "Could you take part of that away?" Then she decided to do it herself by tipping some of her coffee into another cup. She only spilt a tiny drop onto the doily. Very clever. I'd have deluged the table. Her toast was extremely good - fresh, perfectly toasted.

Paola told me the house speciality were croissants and Danishes.

"Why don't you have a Danish?" she asked.

"Because I'm already having two things and I have to lose more weight," I replied. I stood up to show off my 1988 Maxwell Vine jacket taken from storage in the attic. "Max was a very famous tailor," I explained, "he made all the clothes for the man who played the count in The Sound of Music."

"Monte Cristo?" suggested Paola.

"No, not Monte Cristo - Count Von Trapp!" I said. "The actor was Christopher Plummer."

My sausages were excellent. I got two muffin things and they were very good, too.

It's a real quality serving. Unfortunately a bit cramped at the table, otherwise it would all be superb. Two very young Malaysian girls arrived to sit by us. One of them took a photo.

"What did you photograph?" I asked.

"Just the place," she replied.

I ordered a chocolate eclair and a strawberry tart. Paola advised, "They're famous for their pain au chocolat."

"I don't see it on the menu," I said.

"It's not on the menu, it's at the front on the counter," Paola responded. The eclair was good but it had a chocolate centre and I prefer white cream. "That's because you're stuck in your ways," explained Paola.

The girls next to us were named Ciyi and Huiyi. Huiyi was at Cambridge University studying economics (I did that!) and Ciyi was at Imperial College London studying business management. So they were no fools, these girls. Not just a couple of tourists. They were serious people.

I'd dictated, with gross inaccuracy, "They look like 15-year-olds on a day out." I told them, "If we take your photo it will be in The Sunday Times. Do you read The Sunday Times?"

They said, "Not really" and giggled.

Paola said, "I've finished. I don't like their coffee. I've discovered Pret a Manger coffee. I always thought Starbucks was the best but Pret, which is American coffee, is excellent."

On the way out I decided to buy three very small marzipan apples. They appeared in a plastic wrapper. I asked, "How much?" They were £1.50 each.

"Unbelievable!" I said. "Not at that price, thank you," and left them on the counter.

As we walked off I asked, "Why are they so expensive, Princess?"

Paola replied, "Because they're so well made. And they're interesting as well." I said, "They're just a (very vulgar word) ball!" Paola responded, "Yes, but they made it in the shape of a little apple. And it's Kensington. Everything's expensive in Kensington."

  • This made me think of my house. Every time I read any property price reported in a newspaper it's low beyond belief. I think, "I'll buy it for that."

    My house is journalist-valued at £8-10m. I could get £35m without even putting ads in Exchange & Mart or Feathered World. There's a rubbish one going a few doors away for £18m and the agent tells clients it needs another £4m spending on it. Princess is right. Kensington is expensive.

    Winner's letters

    They seek him here they seek him there! I greatly enjoyed the fantastical account of Sir Percy Winner and Princess Marie Antoinette as they daringly ventured south of the Thames (Winner's Dinners, April 2). He had cunningly swapped his suit trousers for a cheap pair of jeans from Borough Market and she was presumably dressed as a milkmaid. I wept with admiration at their first sighting of roast chicken on a Sunday lunch menu and at her first taste of cabbage. Let them eat cake!
    James Cracknell, Clapham

    You were right about the room and the view at Roast (Winner's Dinners, April 2) but our roast lamb came "blue", was heated up and returned inedible. The fillet steak was tough and tasted of liver! The crayfish starter contained tiny, hard crayfish, not the succulent, fresh type we expected. It was overpriced food in lovely surroundings.
    Poppy Myers, London

    Regarding the self-promoting trumpeting you hand out to restaurateurs abroad (Winner's Dinners, April 9), how does one translate "overfed, excessively pampered old goat"? However, your offering is the first thing we read in The Sunday Times - you must be doing something right!
    Chris and Liz George, Cambridge

    The silver-crested buzzard is an endangered species that flies the world over devouring duff provender and plonk at "saw you coming" prices. Add 2,000 quid per kip and there's a lesson for us all. Has our hero never heard of bed, breakfast, evening meal and use of cruet in Clacton or Cleethorpes?
    Ron Pearson, West Yorkshire

    I don't believe you've been on a diet. I think you discovered the photographer of choice, Mario Testino. If he can shed about 10lb and 10 years from the Duchess of Cornwall with strategic lighting, I can only guess what he'd do for you!
    Heather Tanner, Suffolk

    At Richard Corrigan's restaurant Bentleys we waited 35 minutes for our starters and then 30 minutes for the main course. Mine was sent back as it was cold, two of us had very undersized Dover soles. My Welsh rarebit was also cold. We wrote Mr Corrigan a polite letter. No reply! I suppose once you're a television celebrity restaurant customers come a poor second!
    Alan Bower, Harrow

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk