Cédric Grolet at The Berkeley + Three of London’s Best French Patisseries

The French pastry scene in London has risen to new heights, partly thanks to saying bonjour to 36-year old pastry phenom Cédric Grolet, who’s won accolades as “best pastry chef in the world.” Perhaps the first pastry chef to earn “rock star” status, particularly in his native France, where just as if for a concert, customers line up outside Grolet’s patisseries to sample his innovative trompe-l'œil creations. While previously you had to travel to Paris for a taste, now he has opened a sexy new café-stroke-pastry lab at The Berkeley in Knightsbridge. It didn’t take much persuading to get us to check it out and inspired us to round up delicious places to indulge a pastry habit in London.

With the world’s glitterati DMing him for personal commissions and an obsessive global fanbase (2.2 million and counting on Instagram), Grolet and his photogenic pastries coming to London was already a big deal. Then, he upped the ante by choosing to locate his new venture at The Berkeley, already known for its creative food offerings—such as the hotel's Instagrammable Pret-A-Portea and Michelin-star restaurant by Marcus Wareing. On the café’s opening day in February, Cédric Grolet himself noted the personal importance, saying, “London was the first city I ever visited outside of France. It has always had a very special place in my heart, and to open in this incredible city is a long-time dream.” 

The aesthetics of his new pastry “lab” designed by fellow Frenchman, interior designer Remi Tessier, is like something out of the future with gleaming polished stainless steel, sleek white stone counters and a gold leaf gilded ceiling. A glass screen hangs over the central counter, engraved with gold. There are two sets of four pink counter seats perched just so diners can watch the artistry up close. The open kitchen is so clean and pristine, it boggles the mind as to how nothing manages to drip—no random puff of flour or sugar; albeit at this stage, most of the work is finishing off, but still! Grolet and Tessier painstakingly poured over the design details for over a year and it shows. The walls feature carved flowers and lemons, representing Grolet’s first-ever union of his fruit and flower creations, and the scallop floor tiles represent the apple slices that Grolet found in the tarte aux pommes, everything is served in handmade ceramics from France with gold cutlery.  There is even a special Cédric Grolet pastry knife designed for his creations, which has the appearance of a steak knife but in fact has a serrated blade designed specifically for cleanly cutting into pastries.

In case you doubted the pastries…they live up to the hype. Grolet’s most famous creations are his fruits and flower cakes, which are offered together for the very first time in London. Currently, these creations are sold in separate patisseries in Paris. Grolet is famous for trompe-l'œil artistry, which means his pastries look like what you are eating–the lemon looks like a real lemon but is actually a bright yellow, crunchy white chocolate shell with a smooth tart lemon curd inside studded with chewy bits of peel. The hazelnut appears as a large nut but has about six different variations of creamy, nutty and sweet layers inside. He’s even done his own take on the English scone, which looks like a scone but, again, inside is layer after delicate layer of cake and mousses with different tastes and textures. He also is famous for tarts piped with cream or sliced fruit that look like flowers. Everything is incredible and each tastes even more delicious than they look.

Cédric Grolet at The Berkeley

There are two options for enjoying the patisserie in the hotel, the immersive The Chef’s Counter in the lab, or in The Berkeley Café, a new all-day dining spot next to the pastry lab. The lab counter is the full-on option: You are literally seated in the kitchen overlooking the chefs and the only choice is a menu of signature tastings—five sweet and one savory—served with champagne.

There is more flexibility in The Berkeley Café, an all-day dining spot serving petit déjeuner and goûter. For breakfast (aka petit déjeuner) choose from viennoiserie, waffles, crepes and savory signatures such as croissant benedicte (eggs benedict in a croissant). Goûter is the long-standing French ritual of sweet snacking, and Grolet has created a tasting menu with five showstoppers from the patisserie, including the London exclusive Scone, the Noisette and the Citron, Grolet’s best selling creations in Paris, a vanilla flower and a Paris-Brest flower. Seeing a woman savoring this experience at the table next to us begs the life-long question, how do French women stay so slim?

Flower cakes and viennoiserie are sold à la carte, which is what we opted for, sampling the Citron, the Hazelnut and the vanilla flower. We adore pastry, cakes and sweets of all kinds and have eaten more than our fair share—nothing in our lives have tasted this delicious. Each pastry is £25 (about $32, and worth every cent); the five-course Goûter menu is £90 (about $118) and includes a glass of champagne, and the lab counter is £135 (approximately $175). The café was busy the day we went last month with quite a few French people mixed with well-dressed and curious Londoners, but now that all COVID protocols have lifted the hotel is expecting many more international tourists. Booking is essential and can be done online or by email [email protected]

Takeaway is also available seven days a week selling the chef’s signature viennoiserie, cookies, cakes, all made each morning fresh for the day, with a ‘once they are gone, they are gone!’ policy. 

Three French Bakeries in London

Beyond Cédric Grolet at The Berkeley, here are a few other worthy stops for those seeking something sweet or savory while in London:

Chestnut Bakery: Taking over the former spaces of Dominique Ansel in Belgravia and more recently Covent Garden, is a first-rate team of bakers who trained in Paris. They have an almond croissant studded with so many almond slivers they look like mini porcupines, inside is perfectly rich but not too sweet marzipan. They are also known for their Mille Feuille and sourdough breads. Both locations have dining areas to relax with a coffee and whatever treats you choose.

Miel Bakery: Located at the top end of Marylebone, this tiny patisserie packs a big punch with its crispy laminated croissants and London’s best Kouign Amann (butter cake). Owner and founder, Shaheen Peerbhai, was trained at Le Cordon Bleu and has worked everywhere from pop-ups to three-star Michelin restaurants. Pick up some viennoiserie and head to nearby Regent’s Park for a picnic as there is very limited seating.

Patisserie Saint Anne: The real deal, the bakery originated in the 13th arrondissement for 20 years and moved to London in 2014, and is now in Hammersmith not far from the Thames.  They used to have a small cafe area, which seems to have disappeared during COVID, so grab some pastries (everything is amazing) and pop over to “London’s Riviera” to enjoy!

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