Archives for posts with tag: La Boqueria

When I travel I like to plot my list of food shops to visit on a map so that I can focus my energies in the right areas. You generally find that there are some key streets or areas that become the focus for great food places and once you wander around you find others to inspire as well.

In London, my favourite is Marylebone High Street, closely followed by Columbia Road on a Sunday. It’s Abbot Kinney in LA, La Boqueria in Barcelona and a tour of the vineyards off the beaten track in Cape Town. You get the idea.

This weekend, we were at lunching at friends who live in Clapham and it’s not generally an area I know well. But I have read about many places that seem to centre around Northcote Road and my cake-making crony was waxing lyrical about a new patisserie that had opened on her doorstep, so I went to investigate before lunch. She was right – this is one to add to your food discoveries.

Firstly, all the craft trades are well represented on the Northcote Road, with butchers (Dove & Hennessy’s), bakers (Breadstall) and cheesemongers (Hamish Johnston) all doing a great job along with the historic market which dates back to the 1860’s. But more interestingly is the fact that many new concepts are launched here. The original Jamie Oliver’s Recipease was created nearby on St John’s Road and Franco Manca is a centrally situated serving up their signature sourdough pizzas which was the first outpost of the original Brixton Village pizzeria.

Queuing for the marvellous meringues

Queuing for the marvellous meringues

The new place to discover is Aux Merveilleux de Fred. You can read about the history of these creations on their website, but needless to say, there is a very good reason why they translate into ‘wonderful’. The concept originated in Lille and now has two outlets in London, the second one here almost on the doorstep of my friend’s house! Here you have two perfect meringues bound together with cream and coated into a perfect ball of sweetness that seem to be incredibly popular, if you note the queue of people waiting to pay £1.70 for a mouthful of meringue. They are created in front of the customer and make the most perfect gift with beautiful boxes just like all the best French patisseries.

Les Merveilleux assembled front of house for all to see

Les Merveilleux assembled front of house for all to see

A wonderful meringue, made at home

A wonderful meringue, made at home

Luckily enough, my friend is in her own right an award winning cake maker and she told me very clearly not to buy anything from there as she had made her own, so after an indulgent long lunch we were treated to her version which disappeared in a melting moment. When you are as talented as she is, you too would conclude that you could do it yourself for a much better price, but my skills are not in that league, so know that you can find Fred’s on the Northcote Road or in South Kensington!

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These meringues are only one of a few French patisserie outlets that have crept over the pond recently. The other one I have visited in the past weeks is La Patisserie des Reves at the top of Marylebone High Street (my fave – remember). This is an impressive shop with bold domes of patisserie screaming from the central table, although I have it on good authority that the pastries are not baked fresh, but only baked off, so not as wonderful as their Parisian counterparts.

Clever domes of patisserie grace the central table here

Clever domes of patisserie grace the central table here

Nevertheless, they are pretty impressive and sit alongside the revival of doughnuts, the cronut imposters, the macarons and all the other classic French pastries that have been inspired by our renewed interest in baking. Thanks Mary Berry. We like this fashion and look forward to ever more concepts travelling across the channel.

A dome of Tarte Tatin

A dome of Tarte Tatin

There has been a renewed focus on the plight of the high street this week. At the end of last year Mary Portas published her insights, commissioned by David Cameron, and then earlier this week there was a lot of talk about Justin King and the content of his speech to the Guildhall, London.

It was reported that Justin was critical of the independent retailers for not changing with the times in the same way the supermarkets have and as such they were in some way at fault for the failure of their businesses. He was apparently going to talk about the fact that we no longer have time to browse the butcher and the baker and the greengrocer any more and that these sites should go to other non-retail opportunities such as residential housing. Instead he was to extoll the virtue of the out of town shopping centre.

This is interesting in light of a recent New York Times article entitled “Making over the Mall in Rough Economic Times” which was talking about the demise of the mall in the US where retail outlets are being replaced by schools, clinics, offices and churches.

In the end, Justin stuck to his marketing roots and focused instead on the change in customer relationship marketing through the improved connections we get with loyalty cards, smart phones and the internet. In his ‘Back to the Future’ speech, Justin also alluded to the investment they have made in bringing fishmongers, butchers and bakers into their stores to create that face to face contact. I agree with Justin that it is about personal connections but I still feel that a text to my phone or an e mailed offer is simply targeted marketing and I am yet to rave about the service or knowledge received from his rear service staff.

As I said before, I do think supermarkets do a good job but I also think that people have time to visit butchers and bakers and greengrocers but only if it is worth their while. My friend Howard at Echochamber has a theory called Einstein Time and the principle is that time is fluid. People will queue for something they really want and won’t wait if not. So it is up to the retailer to make it a great experience worth waiting for.

Last year I discovered Intelligentsia coffee in LA which competes in a world of fast instantly available coffee when people are at their most time pressured – on their way in to work. And yet, here people queue in a long line. Why? you may ask. Well it’s great quality coffee, a funky environment and most importantly, you get your own personal barista standing in front of you making that skinny, frothy, wet, whatever-you-heart-desires coffee at a coffee pod within the shop. They know that coffee drinking is a serious thing.

The Intelligentsia personal coffee service

One-to-one coffee making at the front two stations - see the ladies in blue and pink

As for greengrocers, there is still growth in local market stalls and whilst it is not quite the high street, the consumer is clearly seeking something that supermarkets don’t offer. The best example I know of a fruit & veg market stall is at La Boqueria in Barcelona, where standards are consistent and added value is a way of life. It was interesting to hear that Charles Wilson of cash & carry retailer Booker announced at the Guildhall this week the rollout of their dedicated greengrocers in 30 stores which is great, especially as I was involved in the training programme for this. Booker is doing exceptionally well, so we should be taking note if that is where they are investing their money.

Great greengrocering....at La Boqueria

Perfect VM every time

Fun with fresh juices

Prepared fruit La Boqueria way complete with fork

There are plenty of examples of great butchers, fishmongers and bakers too:

The butchery at Darts Farm, Devon

Eataly, Turin

Despite that, most are struggling to remain in the high street and the problem is clear to see.

Maybe the solution will be inspired by that recent TV series: The Fabulous Baker Brothers. I am still catching up since my return home, but it was eminently sensible to put these two skills together and I can only hope that these brothers and their adjacent outlets in Chipping Sodbury are flourishing. The show and the book were great.

So why not combine outlets on our high streets by buddying up? The Butcher & The Baker? The Baker & The Cheesemonger? The Fishmonger & The Greengrocer? It would double the personalised customer experience and halve the overheads for the retailer. Maybe this is the next generation of prepared food too, where we get the perfect burger pattie on sale adjacent to the ideal burger bun; the best raclette cheese with sourdough bread for the perfect cheese sandwich; fish & samphire; scallops & cauliflower. The list is endless. I am also seeing condiments, recipes, crockery…the works. You saw it here first!

Beautiful cheese ready for its ideal match