London has long lagged behind its French counterparts when it comes to haute patisserie – but no longer, thanks to this new opening from Parisian pastry chef extraordinaire Cédric Grolet. Housed in The Berkeley hotel, the offering is part chic café, part whizzy laboratory, where magical confections are made before your very eyes. Grolet is a celebrity in his own right in his native France, and it’s not hard to see why – his witty and playful creations have to be seen (and tasted) to be believed. For out-of-this-world patisserie, Cédric Grolet at The Berkeley hotel is our London restaurant of the week.
The nattily dressed doorman at the entrance to The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge tips us a wink on arrival. “He’s very approachable, you know, if you want a selfie.” The ‘he’ to whom he refers is Cédric Grolet, the reigning king of Parisian patisserie and ‘World’s Best Pastry Chef’, whose first patisserie outside France has just opened at The Berkeley. We thank our man for the intel even though (don’t tell Grolet’s 2.2m followers) we’re not too bothered about selfies. We’re strictly here for the cake.
Though ‘cake’ seems too prosaic a term for Grolet’s miniature masterpieces, his famous trompe l’œil ‘Fruits’ that cut open to reveal layers of jelly, ganache and mousse. It’s a witty touch to decorate the café tables with actual fruit. Witty, and as evocative a signifier of the season as the spring buds and narcissus that fill the vases.
In honour of Grolet’s arrival, The Berkeley has created a new all-day café and boutique overlooking Knightsbridge. French designer Remi Tessier has outfitted the café in gold, marble and scalloped cream bouclé to contrast with the futuristic ‘pastry lab’, where exquisite delicacies sit like precious jewels under polished glass cloches. It’s here, at eight seats around a counter, that Grolet serves his much-hyped £135 tasting menu. While I have heard only great things about it, it’s the ‘Goûter’ menu we’ve come for: a new teatime ritual exclusive to The Berkeley. (Meanwhile, the hotel’s iconic ‘Prêt-à-Portea’ afternoon tea remains as popular as ever.)
The ‘Goûter’ menu offers five signatures in petite form, opening with ‘Vanilla Flower’, its delicate petals speckled with vanilla, and ‘Noisette’, under whose golden shell hides caramel and ethereal hazelnut mousse. Next, a scone ‘Trompe l’œil’, with cream inside a scone-esque exterior. Very cute; very clever. Best of all, however, is the Paris-Brest which, matryoshka-like, has a mini choux bun at its heart. The famous ‘Citron’ is a sharp, palate-cleansing note on which to finish. It’s testament to Grolet’s light touch that after five desserts, coffee and a glass of Champagne (all included in the £90 bill) we still feel light on our feet.
The ‘Goûter’ and ‘Counter’ menus are once a year, if not once in a lifetime, experiences. I’d make the case that it’s actually the boutique offering that’s more exciting. London lags behind Paris in the patisserie league, so it’s a joy to be able to get world-class haute patisserie and viennoiserie for as little as a fiver. It’s this accessibility that makes the room so vital, so fun. There are hip hotel guests taking tea; shoppers grabbing croissants; locals collecting Click and Collect orders (the larger cakes, from £35, are highly desirable); and children tucking into pistachio cookies. This, for me, is modern luxury in action. A child’s felt-tipped drawing pinned above the coffee machine says it all: ‘Bienvenue à Londres’.