London’s Best Afternoon Tea, pt. 2: Cocomaya

Cocomaya is one of those places that had been on my “London: To Visit” list for a good year (well, it is a long list…). The collaborative project of Serena Rees (Agent Provocateur’s founder), Joel Bernstein (former head of concept at Liberty) and Walid al Damirji (accessories designer), I knew it had to be good.

So late one frosty winter’s day recently – when only a glittering chocolate box of a place would do to lift the spirits – my friend Kiki and I took ourselves off to Connaught St for some sugary soul-restoration. You won’t miss it; against the London’s inky twilight, from the outside it stands out like sparkly treasure box.

What originally began as an artisanal chocolate shop, Cocomaya now has a bakery in the neighbouring shop, where they sell the most divine tarts, cakes, bread and salads (or, as I prefer, to take home for the most perfect brunch the following morning). Though you can take tea or eat in either shop, it’s the chocolate shop I really adore. There, the tables are strewn with tiers of sugary treats and flowers in silly vases, and glass cabinets hold sets of antique china and plates and plates of handmade chocolates (made on-site; the smell of cocoa wafting from the back room whilst you sit is sheer heaven). It’s unashamedly over the top kitsch, but in the most glamorous, gilded way. In other words, it’s exactly as you imagine your posh, eccentric relative’s dining room should look.

As for our own afternoon tea? Kiki had a gorgeous quince and almond tart, and as I had skipped lunch in anticipation, I started with a white mulberry tea and pumpkin, ricotta and seeded tart (the lightest, fluffiest quiche I have ever had). Though obviously any good intentions we may have begun with were then quickly offset by the hot chocolate (which is really just rich, molten dark chocolate with a hint of milk – so the small version will more than satisfy) and handmade chocolates (in garden mint, rose geranium and chilli) which followed.

The best part about this jewel of a place is that it’s tiny, and the service is therefore attentive and friendly (something which is rarely a given when going for tea in one of the large hotels, for example), they don’t mind you lingering for hours on end over good conversation fuelled by those delicious wafts of cocoa, and will happily bring out more tiny golden cups of that special hot chocolate to fortify you against the frosty, grey streets outside.

So tell me lovelies, what do you look for in a place to linger in for hours on a wintery afternoon?

Love, Miss B xx

Cocomaya, 12 Connaught St, London W2 2AF

London’s Best Afternoon Tea: The Parlour at Sketch

The English half of me has always had an inherent need for tea, but since moving to England, this has turned into a fully-fledged obsession. Whenever I have a spare afternoon, the mean reds (in the words of Holly Golightly), want to catch up with a girlfriend or just need a moment of peaceful decadence, I am usually to be found having afternoon tea all over London. I don’t know what it is, but a proper cup of tea and some pretty little cakes seem to me like pure luxury when served on floral china in a chintzy, gilded room. And after two years of hunting down the best establishments in all of London, Sketch is one of my firm favourites.

Though it’s incognito from the outside – you’ll be able to spot it from the big headless dog statue perched above the entrance – once you step inside the Parlour, it feels like Alice’s mad tea party meets a Victorian English eccentric’s over-stuffed sitting room meets Mayfair aristocrat (kind of a perfect mash-up, in my opinion). I love either perching right beside the window (for Conduit Street people watching) or, on a rainy day, happily hiding as far in the back as possible, settling in with a newspaper and a pot of tea beneath the big, illuminated stag heads.

The tea selection is extensive (I love the Jing Chai), but it’s the little cakes and pastries where they really excel – each one is like a little work of patisserie art, gorgeous enough to make Marie Antoinette herself squeel with glee. I’m enamoured with the Cardinal – a beautifully constructed oversized blackberry macaron with violet creme, crystalised violet petals and blackcurrant jelly.

Also, and I do not make this statement lightly, their macarons are some of the best I have ever had. For quality, they are certainly up there with Laduree and Pierre Herme, but their flavours (though they only ever have a few at a time) are wonderfully original – last time I had early grey tea and lemongrass (my tastebuds were simultaneously shocked and dancing with excitement).

Finally, you simply cannot leave the establishment without a trip to the toilets. Though this may seem a strange dictate to make, I’m quite certain that Sketch boasts the best toilets in all of London. To find them, head down the hallway, through the heavy doors (with golden ladies’ legs for doorknobs), and through the art gallery (which may be completely dark, but for a moving art installation on one wall). There, you’ll come to a ghostly white staircase where, at the top, sits a forest of giant glowing pods (each one is a toilet) watched by uniformed French maids. If ever going to loo could be a cultural experience, then this is surely it.

Do you have a favourite place for afternoon tea? And would you like to see this turn into a regular feature?

Love, Miss B xx

The Parlour at Sketch – 9 Conduit St, London W1S 2XG

Fudgey Bittersweet Chocolate and Cheesecake Cupcakes

Come Hallowe’en, I become obsessed by all things pumpkin pie. Even though I make (in my opinion) the best pumpkin pie, the Clever Boyfriend and my nearby friends hate the stuff, and thus I’m usually left to eat most of the thing myself. This means I have to limit myself to making it once a year  (I don’t want an entire pumpkin pie going straight to my thighs on a regular basis, you see…) and it becomes even more special.

Since not everyone is a fan of the traditional Hallowe’en pumpkin flavours (and those that are usually already have a favourite recipe), these little cakes are a great alternative. Their richness seems Hallowe’en appropriate, and the eggless base becomes a dark, fudgey (almost truffle-like) base which is offset nicely by the sweeter cheesecake top. And the best part? It impossible to eat more than a couple of these, so your thighs will generally be happier…

INGREDIENTS:

Bittersweet chocolate base:
190g plain flour
125g caster sugar
40g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
45ml vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar (you won’t taste this, but it is essential to react with the bicarb soda to make the cakes rise)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cheesecake top:
150g reduced fat cream cheese
60g caster sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
100g dark chocolate chips

Cream cheese frosting:
150g reduced fat cream cheese
150g icing sugar (sifted)
50g butter (room temperature)

METHOD:
Preheat oven to 170c / 325f

For the chocolate base:
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and bicarb soda until combined.
In a separate jug, stir together the oil, vinegar, vanilla and 125ml water.
Slowly add the liquid mix to the dry ingredients, mixing constantly. The mixture will become very thick; continue to beat until all the ingredients are completely combined. If mixing by hand rather than electric beater, you may need to add a little more water to allow the ingredients to combine – do this by slowly adding 1 teaspoon of water at a time until you have a thick, fudgey consistency.
Spoon the mixture into a muffin tray lined with paper cases (each case should be 2/3 full).

For the cheesecake topping:
In a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, egg, sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth and fluffy. Stir in the chocolate chips until evenly dispersed (do not overmix).
Scoop this mixture on top of the chocolate mixture (about 1 tablespoon in each case).

Bake for around 20 minutes, or until the cakes are firm to touch and the cheesecake has become golden (do not overcook as cheesecake will become dry).
Leave to cool slightly before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting: beat together the icing sugar and butter until the mixture is creamy and well combined. Add the cream cheese and beat until completely incorporated. Continue beating at high speed until the whole mixture becomes light and fluffy (about 5 mins).

Once cool, ice each cake with the cream cheese frosting (below) and a sprinkling of cocoa powder.

Makes 12 regular cupcakes.

What are you making for Hallowe’en?

Love, Miss B xx

Raspberry, parma and goat’s cheese salad

The last long days of Summer have this week definitely turned into the crisp days of Autumn. To me, that spells the end of long breezy evenings with the windows thrown open, long afternoons lazing by the river enjoying the smell of the grass (even though it makes me sneeze), and stone fruits and berries so juicy they trickle down one’s arm.

I love the changing seasons, but always panic at thought of not being able to have something for another 6 months. Wanting to make the most of these jewel-coloured treasures before they disappear for the year, I stocked up on raspberries, blackberries and the last of the English strawberries at the farmer’s market. Some have gone into tarts, others into clafoutis. But my favourite way to enjoy them is to honour their beauty in a blissfully simple way.

Though the combination of flavours in this salad may sound somewhat strange, it absolutely works.

INGREDIENTS (serves 2):

Rocket (that’s arugula to my lovely American readers), baby spinach or other salad leaves, mixed with a few torn basil leaves

I small wheel of soft goat’s cheese (at room temperature or slightly warm), torn

I small punnet raspberries

5-6 slices parma or prosciutto ham, torn

Small handful of cherry or grape tomatoes

1/4 red onion, sliced very finely (optional)

Large drizzle of good quality olive oil

Balsamic vinegar (raspberry or pomegranate vinegar also work beautifully), freshly cracked pepper and sea salt, to taste

Throw the lot in a bowl, toss, done. Best served outside in the fading sunset, chilled rose in hand.

Do you have a favourite seasonal recipe at this time of year?

Love, Miss B