When I was studying at Imperial College a few years ago, one of my favourite guilty pleasures was the Hummingbird Bakery, a little American-style cupcakery just off the station. By the time I was introduced to the bakery by a friend, however, it was already fairly popular, commercially successful and well on its way to open two branches in the Middle East. Even if you’re a tourist or local who prefers quaint, home-grown charms and would be put off by the popularity, I’d still suggest visiting Hummingbird Bakery. But for that cosier experience, you may want to make a trip to their first bakery, nestled in Notting Hill.
If you’re in South Kensington, though, I’d like to introduce another favourite for two years running: Maitre Choux, which offers specialty éclairs with an assortment of teas and coffee. Decorated with attention and finesse and signed delicately by the pastry chef – multi-award winner Joakim Prat – these beautiful éclairs – lined in the shop windows and on the counter – are a feast for the eyes. The shop interior is minimalist and white, and so these colourful éclairs speak for themselves. (For a photographer, however, it’s hard to compose wider shots, as there are always pedestrians walking around, peering through the window, gawking at the sheer exquisiteness of it all.)
A popular favourite has to be the Persian Pistachio cream, but chocolate is my Achilles’ heel, so if you too have a weakness for chocolate, definitely try the Very Dark Multi-origin Chocolate Éclair (Reves Intenses De Chocolat), which is light choux, filled with airy whipped cream and topped with decadent dark chocolate – a triptych of earthly delights.
The staff at Maitre Choux are lovely hosts and will guide you through the assortment of éclairs. There is limited seating, but I recommend sitting down to catch a breath and really appreciate the vibrant patisserie with a slow cup of coffee; in fact, I’d even suggest strolling around the neighbourhood and coming back when seating is available. I’m yet to see someone camp out with a laptop, so it could take just about twenty minutes to find a vacant seat.
Eating at a nice patisserie or a beloved local restaurant has to be part of my trip to a new place, however short the time duration. I know South Kensington is quite overwhelming with three museums a stone’s throw away, each of which can take up a day on its own, but if you’re running short of time, there’s no harm in cutting short a trip to a museum (the art fiend in me would skip the science museum, but that’s just me), and tick off Maitre Choux on your visit to ‘South Ken’!