Lady Of Leisure / Hg2 MUST-EAT

It’s hard to convey the full loveliness of Maison Bertaux, the oldest French patisserie in London (a true lady never reveals her age, but if she were baking a cake to celebrate her own birthday, she’d have to find 140 chic, quirky little candles). A timeless Soho throwback to a bygone age, you only have to peep into the window to know you are in the presence of something incredibly special, as you gaze upon rows of choux buns piled high with fresh cream, marzipan figs and exquisite berry tarts, bejewelled with their gleaming red fruits. The establishment is spread over two tiny, rickety floors of unpretentious, effortlessly shabby chic; better described as timeless rather than fashionable, but only because fashions change, and Maison Bertaux could never go out of style. Talking of fashion, the late Alexander McQueen had a favourite table upstairs (first floor by the window, last on the left), but the building’s colourful history extends far further back. When Maison Bertaux was started by a Parisian refugee from the Paris Commune, the baking took place downstairs while upstairs there lived two families, a tailor and two prostitutes. The prostitutes may have eventually left to make room for the customers, but this being Soho, they didn’t go far; up until quite recently, ladies of negotiable affection could be observed walking the streets outside with little poodles or chihuahuas at their heels (there were no laws against a young miss walking her dog). Returning to the food, our personal favourite is a deceptively plain macaroon, a crumbly, delicate disc that might seem somewhat un-hedonistic until you reach the core of sweet, oozing jam. On second thoughts, forget we mentioned that. There is no macaroon. Come to mention it, there is no Maison Bertaux. Forget the cafe au lait and the cream cake, move on down the street for an espresso and a biscotti at Bar Italia: we want this little corner of heaven all to ourselves, and we’re not sharing.
By Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough
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Hg2 | A Hedonist's Guide is a luxury city guide series coveted by travellers who value both style and substance when it comes to soaking up a city. Irreverent, inspired, and, above all, intelligent.

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