Home Opinion Maison Bertaux: The best croissanterie in London

Maison Bertaux: The best croissanterie in London

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 Michelle Wade and her eclectic collection of theatrical memorabilia
Michelle Wade and her eclectic collection of theatrical memorabilia

Every time I visit Maison Bertaux in London’s Soho I resolve to write a little story. I never did until now. But last Saturday I was enjoying my usual croissant and pot of tea, seated at one of the three tiny tables in the equally tiny shop. I had full awareness of the comings and goings, sometimes a little chaotic but always very theatrical (this is, after all, the heart of theatre land). For the first time I was moved to get out my little pocket Ricoh GR and fire off a few atmospheric shots of this eclectic and crowded mini establishment.

 Chomp, chomp: Are these the largest, crispiest and most delicious croissants in London? My nose draws me inexorably forward, even as I emerge from Leicester Square station.
Chomp, chomp: Are these the largest, crispiest and most delicious croissants in London? My nose draws me inexorably forward, even as I emerge from Leicester Square station.
 Tinkle the ivories over breakfast at Maison Bertaux
Tinkle the ivories over breakfast at Maison Bertaux
 In one door, out the other like some Whitehall farce, as Michelle delivers Christmas baubles to the annexe
In one door, out the other like some Whitehall farce, as Michelle delivers Christmas baubles to the annexe

Established in 1871 and resident in Greek Street for as long as anyone can remember, Maison Bertaux is unique in London. As you enter you are wafted back to the gay nineties (1890s, that is) and your nose is assailed by the heady aroma of real baking.

Those croissants, for instance, are the largest and most delicious in captivity. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. But they are enormous, crispy, buttery and everything that a croissant should be. They’re a world away from the usual dead fish of a pastry that we are presented with.

 Victorian cake rackery. All a bit higgledy-piggledy but supremely endearing
Victorian cake rackery. All a bit higgledy-piggledy but supremely endearing

But if scones are your thing, Maison B’s substantial confections rise to the occasion. In fact, when it comes to French fancies of any shape or flavour you’ve come to the right place.

Used as we are to Starbucks, Neros and Costas on every street corner, Maison B is a revelation. It’s not that I’m decrying the coffee chains — after all, I spend enough time in them in the course of a year — but occasionally it is right and proper that we try the real thing. There’s a time and a place for everything.

 Franch fancies to keep you going and make you fat
Franch fancies to keep you going and make you fat

Don’t expect luxury in accommodation at 28 Greek Street. The tables are a bit rickety, the upstairs salon can be a bit chilly and the next-door ground-floor salon is unconnected. You have to go out and into next door. But what you can expect is a warm and friendly reception from Michelle Wade and her crew of bakers and waiters.

Next time you are in Soho do yourself a favour and pop in for a coffee and croissant. You won’t regret it.

 All snaps with the little Ricoh GR
All snaps with the little Ricoh GR
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7 COMMENTS

  1. Living in the suburbs of London and having a fetish for croissants is clearly unfortunate.

    I am going to have to examine the possibility of exchanging my south London mansion for a Soho pied-a-terre. It should be much easier to source decent breakfast goods. It never ceases to amaze me that our local outlets take such a cavalier attitude to the holy breakfast, the consistency of which leaves much to be desired.

    Mind you, there is a political point here… The kind of outlets that I am referring to, are NOT bakers, they are warmer-uppers that reach into a freezer and pull out a bunch of (ahem) French made croissants, frozen at their peak doughiness and then warmed through by automaton.

    Recently, I have settled on the Co-op, which warms through some "French petrol station quality" product…. The problem is that each member of staff barring one, seems to have no knowledge of what a properly warmed through "petrol station quality" croissant should look, or taste like, they are merely going through the motions. There is a period of a morning when the anticipation of a good one… is trashed by the lady who tells me that she has followed the instructions, so the pallid lump of fattiness is "a croissant"… No matter what I say.

    And the political point…?

    Our local and national governments have made simple things like owning and running a bakery the sole province of corporatist merchants like the Co-op, Tesco, or Waitrose. They have screwed the independent retailer into oblivion with their tax and regulation.

    • A thoroughly agree. Stephen. Small bakers such as Bertaux can seldom make a good-enough living in suburbs and small towns because of rates and rents. One of the biggest problems — and it happens here in central London as well — is the probability of a huge rent increase when a long-term lease comes to an end. Having signed a lease maybe 30 years ago at an acceptable rent, the new demand is invariably many times more than the business can afford. So in move the big chains and ruin a neighbourhood. Fortunately this type of business does seem to survive in places like Soho, the East End and in many smaller towns with character. But it is a worrying trend. Soon, I suppose, will have set up a table in the back yard and call Amazon to drone-in a freshly baked croissant and little pot of jam.

      The Co-op sounds wonderful. Remind me to drive the 25 miles through South London to sample it…..

  2. One of my favourite haunts when street shooting in London. Lovely to see it given the thumbs up by you Mike.

    Bath is excellent for similar establishments, partly because it’s a very European style city with lots of apartments in the centre and relatively few proper suburbs and partly because it has a large student population (the largest per head of population of any UK city) and upwards of 5 million tourists a year. However, steep rate rises in recent years have squeezed small cafe and deli owners across the city from my conversations with several of them.

    Top tips for croissants in Bath, Sam’s Kitchen Walcot Street, Fine Cheese (ditto) and the Chelsea Cafe in Chelsea Road. Best place to buy them for street or home consumption – the nationally famous Bertinet Bakery: http://www.bertinet.com/bertinetbakery/

    • David, thanks for the helpful information. As you know I am familiar with Bath and believe it is one of those wonderful cities that has managed to retain a good contingent of traditional retails. I will make a point of visiting the places you mention next time I have the opportunity.

    • I have only been to Bath a couple of times…

      Both of them to attend baking courses held by Richard Bertinet, a great bloke.

      He had me putting lavender into one of the dishes, unusual but a surprisingly good addition.

      Must go back soon.

  3. Yes I agree Stephen, Richard Bertinet is a lovely guy, I bumped into him, literally, in Waitrose last year and told him how much I enjoyed his baking, he was charming modest and happy to chat. At one point he had a bakery and cafe in Bath, but it’s only a bakery now.

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