For the third and final review of the week, I've moved across town from Soho to Notting Hill.
3. Gail’s (Notting Hill branch)
Gail’s styles itself as a ‘local’ and ‘artisan’ bakery, and the world would undoubtedly be a better place if we all had a Gail’s on our doorstep. This branch on Portobello Road, in the heart of Notting Hill, is a gift for locals and visitors alike, and there’s a good mix on busy Saturday mornings when the market is in full swing outside. The café is a good size and exemplifies the current trend in café-bakery style of what could be termed 'rustic-moderne’, with solid wooden tables and exposed brick walls, plenty of seating, a pleasant atmosphere, and smiling and helpful staff.
But the real draw is the integrity and quality of the baking. One large counter is devoted to a huge selection of cakes, small cakes, cheesecakes, tarts and tartlets, fondants and brownies. It’s a baking tour de force with all sorts of international influences and it creates anxious moments of indecision and mind-changing for non-locals overwhelmed by the choice.
So if you aren’t a local, the best way to have your cake here is to not hold back. When we visited, a maple finger cake (soft, moist, deliciously sweet and pecan-nutty, £2.70), a passion fruit meringue tart (crisp pastry shell, sweetly rich curd, and perfectly judged lightly toasted meringue peak, £3.95), a chocolate toffee mini tart (chocolate pastry, gooey filling with a tiny, crunch chocolate Florentine on top, £3.50) and a sticky, spicy, fresh and bready hot cross bun (£1.50) seemed as good a way as any to tackle Gail’s best. Future visits are based on the need to try the adorable mini kugelhofs, sludgy pecan brownies, a pale and interesting ricotta tart, a tiny dolls’ house raspberry and corn cake, and a slice of the spectacularly engineered, layered carrot cake.
Any bakery such as this is to be cherished, but there is major one problem with the ‘local’ ethos and that’s that there are no customer toilet facilities on the premises (do they really think that everyone has a loo round the corner to nip home to?). There is a free public toilet just outside Gail’s, but on market days the queue can be distressingly long.
NOTE: Mark-ups on the prices for eating in are high, so you might want to go for the take-home option or one of the 'moveable feast' lunch boxes.
Various cakes: £2.25 - £4.50
Tea: £1.75 (take out), £2.35 (in cafe)
Coffee: £2.10 (take out), £2.50 (in cafe)
138 Portobello Road
London W11 2DZ
Tel: 020 7460 0766
Branches: nine in total (not all the bakeries have a café), check website for details and opening times
Open: Mon to Sat: 7 am - 7.30 pm, Sun & Bank Hols: 8 am - 7.30 pm
Also offers: catering service for picnics, parties, and ‘relaxed feasts’
And a slice of culture: Portobello Market, Portobello Road antiques shops, Electric Cinema (most comfy seats ever), legendary Books for Cooks, Piers Gough's 'Turquoise Island' which houses public toilets/Wild at Heart flowers, colourful Notting Hill terraced houses, various classic NH film locations.