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Friday, December 7, 2012
Eclairs, tarts, gateaux and cakes there is no much to admire at Patisserie Valerie. Naughty but nice SIMON PARKIN looks with his eyes and his mouth.
Look with your eyes, not with your mouth — the saying was a favourite of my mother whenever she was baking and I was hovering around looking to pick up any crumbs that came my way. I usually got to scrap clean the bowl, before whatever was in the oven emerged.
It’s an adage that has also sprung to mind whenever I’ve walked down Davey Place in the past few weeks.
At first I was perplexed what the crowds peering into the window of Patisserie Valerie where so entranced by, then I realised — cakes. Scrumptious cakes.
And it hasn’t stopped since. The novelty just doesn’t seem to be wearing off as the number of people stopping to look in longingly at the éclairs, tarts, gateaux and cakes show no signs of diminishing.
Before we all feel guilty, let me let you know this isn’t a Norwich phenomenon. I’ve pasted branches of the chain in London and Cambridge and seen the same thing. And my parents were raving about the Sheffield branch months ago.
It actually goes back much further than the recent expansion, which has seen the chain quickly open in just about every city centre. Patisserie Valerie was actually first opened in Frith Street in London’s Soho in 1926 by Belgian born Madam Valerie. She came to London on a mission to introduce fine Continental patisserie to the English. It was an instant success.
During the Second World War the Frith Street premises were bombed by the Luftwaffe and Madam Valerie subsequently set up shop around the corner in Old Compton Street where her legacy continues to this day in the Soho branch.
All the recently opened national spin-offs pretty much follow the model of this original. The café-atmosphere includes the brown and cream decor left over from the 1950s epitomised by their Toulouse-Lautrec style cartoons by Terron.
This one size fits all approach to expansion has its risks. Thankfully I feel they’ve got it about right and certainly the Norwich branch feels like the haven of self-indulgence they’re aiming for.
The big attraction, of course, is those cakes and patisserie, but do more than that too. They open at 8am and there are both continental and all-day breakfast menus — ranging from organic porridge to scrambled eggs, plus speciality sandwich and grilled snacks more suited to the lunch trade. There are also more substantial meals like lasagne, quiche and salads.
We tried the Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni and Eggs Benedict Royal (both £8.50), which after a wait, though it was packed, proved to be perfectly adequate. The cannelloni was piping hot and tasty, though not quite up to restaurant standard. The eggs however were fantastic, if pricey.
But that’s enough about the savoury — on to the sweet! I was worried that I may not have left enough room, but a salivating look over the cakes rid me of that.
The chain has a well deserved reputation and hand makes its patisserie using artisan craft bakery skills and traditional baking methods.
After much deliberation, we opted for a classic Éclair au Chocolat and a Tarte au Citron — and my word they really were as good as they looked. So much so that I also ordered a Custard Nata Tart and a coffee. They do excellent coffees too.
I know. Naughty — but nice.
Open: Daily 8am-6pm
Prices: Sandwiches from £7.95, main dishes from £7.95, cakes between £1.65-£4.10
Vegetarian options: Lots
Wheelchair access: Yes