Remember being a kid, and desperately wanting to eat dessert at every meal, or at the very least, before anything else? Executive pastry chef Sarah Barber believes there’s no reason not to make a meal of third courses. Barber recently partnered with the 151-year old Hotel Café Royal to open London’s first dessert restaurant.
She’s taken over the Regent Street café; it’s front-windows filled with multi-layered cakes, thickly frosted lemon loaves and other inviting sweets for evening delights. Diners can still enjoy a coffee and pastry during the daytime, but from 6pm, it’s only the new dessert menu with a choice of 3 (£26), 4 (£34), or 5(£42)-courses with a few savouries included and optional wine pairings available. Guests choose from a selection of dishes.
If it sounds like an exercise in sugar overdosing; I can assure you it’s not. To begin with, portions are perfectly sized – neither too small, nor too big. They’re well crafted for sharing, and leaving one with that, “I want just a little more,” sensation, rather than over-full. None of it is heavy. Now, let’s get to the good stuff – the actual desserts.
Dishes are playfully named, with the menu divided into three categories: childhood memories, pick n mix, and wonderland. The differences aren’t terribly noticeable, but it’s good fun. We begin with the Milky Way, an artistic presentation of whipped goat’s cheese with honey and beetroot. It works very, very well. Next, we’re delivered soft, creamy-in-the-middle burrata with a white wine from Piedmont that’s light and smooth. There are salmon-avocado tarts and chicken foie with quince and brioche, but we don’t linger long on anything resembling traditional dinner food.
An array of delicate raspberries with rose petals is set before us – called the Queen of Hearts, with equally light glasses of De Nit Rosé and then a sinful Eat Me, Drink Me – essentially an upscale, more civilized version of a Snickers bar. The Mad Hatter is dark cherries flaked with gold, next to a plump mound of chocolate sponge and a beaker of kirsch. We’re torn about our favourites. For my companion, it’s the Rhubarb & Custard, a doughnut with a petite apple crumble, custard and vanilla. For me, it’s the Jaffa cake, which is eye candy. Presented in a round, black box, with cocoa as soil, and white chocolate ‘mushrooms’ painted red, with dots. Inside, sits a rectangle wrapped in soft dark chocolate. Underneath, there are two thick layers of chocolate ganache and marzipan – a dreamy combination.
Our server presents it all very proudly, providing flawless, friendly service. We can’t help but think working here has got to be the easiest gig in town. You can bet no one is sending dessert back on the night we’re there – or ever, I imagine. Instead, staff and Ms. Barber herself, circulate between tables of blissfully happy people drinking in the calories they’ve saved up all day for, treating themselves to what can only be described as a very special experience, rather than anything as pedestrian as a meal. This is the sort of place that’s perfect for a quiet weekend afternoon, or even better, a rainy one, pre- or post-theatre, or simply for a celebration or a treat. The menu will change every three months; with a few of the favourites remaining…just enough to lure customers back to see what’s new in Sarah Barber’s sweet wonderland.