Cédric Grolet at the Berkeley, London W1: “Rising blood sugar in Europe” – restaurant review | Food
IIt takes a considerable amount of French bluster to show up in London and rename Afternoon Tea, but if anyone can do it, Cédric Grolet is the man. Grolet is one of the greatest pastry chefs who currently roam the Earth. I say one of, because making the world’s finest Paris-Brest or the finest mille-feuille is a highly debatable affair, but Grolet is definitely in the frame.
Having started at the age of 11 in the kitchen of his grandparents’ hotel in the Loire Valley, Grolet was awarded for the art of sugar at 15, before working at Fauchon and Le Meurice. , both in Paris. This little sugar-powered powerhouse quickly took the world by storm with its increasingly famous trompe-l’oeil artistry. I will translate: his specialties include a lemon cake that looks like a lemon and a hazelnut tart that looks remarkably like a hazelnut. He was named best pastry chef in France in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and a year later won the title of best pastry chef in the world at the 50 Best Awards.
Grolet’s attempt to spike mainland Europe’s blood sugar levels saw him open a kind of cafe, a kind of cake lab in Knightsbridge, and serve not strictly after-tea. noon, but “gouter”, or taster. Rémi Tessier-designed laboratory space, full of white marble, polished stainless steel, glossy scalloped floor tiles, and walls carved with flowers and lemons. Or you can sit in a cushioned area closer to the hotel lobby for the afternoon tea menu, for which tea is served in black mugs with no handles, because, well, we’re not in tea rooms anymore from Betty.
Of course, the French would never do anything so awkward or pleasant as to sit down at 3 p.m. with a cake stand full of egg and watercress sandwiches, fairy cakes and trifles, before eating until that they are almost bilious. Instead, Grolet’s afternoon tea dances with the French idea of bridging the gap between a good lunch and a real dinner with a series of meaningful little sweet tastes, just like French parents do for small children. Grolet’s Gouter menu, a little bit for £90 including tea or coffee, takes place at the Berkeley Hotel and offers five mini versions of his classic creations: small hazelnut, small lemon, small Paris-Brest flower, a flower of vanilla and its take on the British scone.
A Frenchman wading through the UK “jam or cream first?” frenzy the scone debate is either reckless or admirable, but Grolet has the form. In 2017 he published a recipe for scones with a crumble topping, apparently believing crunchy scones were something Britain was missing. He might as well have gone to the Tower of London and chased crows, though I couldn’t help but sigh at his panache. Today, Grolet’s “scone” has an extra layer of marmalade and the toppings are baked inside, giving it a similar shape and vibe, but not taste, to a Mr. Kipling fondant fancy . Grolet is currently on hand at his new cafe in Knightsbridge to explain and justify his techniques, which meant that on the day of my visit the place was chaotic, with him meeting and greeting a meandering queue of customers. down the road, all in dire need of parting with £25 for a single full-sized vanilla flower cake.
At this point you might ask, “But how can a cake cost so much, when a Greggs yum yum costs around 85p and offers a satisfying amount of fluffy donuts without the need to remortgage the house?” This is where Grolet’s lab comes into its own, as you can see him taking a puff pastry, filling it with a thin layer of pale vanilla ganache, laying a disc of light vanilla-flavoured sponge cake on it, brush her lovingly with gloss oiland vanillapoach in the best praline I’ve ever tasted, then let everything set, before glazing it with littlevanilla into ornate, perfect, concentric petals and creating something that is almost too beautiful to shove down your throat. It is impossible to fault Grolet for his money for this experience.
There’s a wonderful video floating around the internet right now in which artisans, designers and artists post videos of the painstaking process behind their magical finished products, all accompanied by a jagged song with the lyrics, “It costs so much because it takes me to fuck the hours! It costs so much because I don’t have superpowers”, and that’s the case here. Grolet’s soufflé, the waffle flower and the flower cake marble cost £25 a pop because they are not made by machine or by invisible sprites, but by living technicians who take marmalade on a scone as seriously as building a Formula 1 car.
Grolet arrived in London, rocked the afternoon tea and convinced me that £90 is a perfectly reasonable price for five small pies and a glass of Laurent-Perrier, before sending me so giddy on the praline and vanilla oil that I immediately booked his £135 ‘chef’s choice’ tasting menu experiences. Grolet is outrageous on many levels, but he does it very nicely.