How To Find The Best Breakfast In Covent Garden
In a cafe in south London.
By Rubber Dragon on 2011-08-22 17:20:42
Doesn’t it seem very un-French to shout your name in capital letters, the way PAUL likes to do? It’s a stylisation at odds with the aesthetic of this chain of London boulangeries, and certainly with the trend among French pastry places, which tend to try and obfuscate their logos with small, impenetrable longhand, artful flourishes and, you know, writing the darn things in French in the first place. On the other hand, it can be difficult for a patisserie to stand out in a city which by now surely has even more croissant-vending outlets than Paris itself. I mean you can just buy those things everywhere. There are so many of them around that you stop noticing it. Like black cabs in that episode of Sherlock, and just as sinister.
When I found myself with nothing for breakfast at the SACO London (not a Covent Garden hotel which starves its guests, but rather Covent Garden apartments which rely on me to make my own breakfast), I thought I’d easily find something interesting in the area. In fact, it proved more difficult than I would have thought. I think a lot of individual restaurants must have been priced out of the area, because Covent Garden is now pretty much exclusively high-end chains. It’s not bad food, but it’s things like the West Cornwall Pasty Company and Carluccio’s. Not really something I can’t get anywhere else in the country. With that in mind, I drifted past PAUL and was intrigued. Big, beautiful piles of crusty fresh bread and amazing pastries fill the windows. It’s really the kind of place which stops you in the street. Inside, it’s a sedate and somehow hazy atmosphere, with a quiet tea salon at the back. It certainly came as a relief from mic’d up buskers let me tell you. I overindulged my sweet tooth, but it’s a testament to the bakery that it never felt too cloying. My apricot pastry was overflowing with fruit and had a real bite to it, and the chouquettes I shared with my wife had a luscious light crunch. PAUL’s hot chocolate has already drawn praise in many places. Like all hot chocolate, it was a bit of a battle, but the rich darkness of it kept it from feeling too unhealthy.
Once breakfast has been had, there’s a huge amount going on in Covent Garden to entertain you for the day. The area is a pedestrianised square dominated by the elegant former market building, now a retail centre for gifty things. The fringes of the area are a navigable zone of small streets with an emphasis on designer and boutique clothes stores, albeit with less of a price tag than places like Knightsbridge. Generally, the surrounding streets are the best places to do your shopping, especially the seven dials, which tows the line between price and originality. The shops in the market itself are pleasant to browse, but are mostly taken up by chain gift shops like Octopus, which does interesting stuff but has branches in pretty much every English city by now. It’s still worth checking out the charming Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop up in the roof, and some of the temporary market stalls are quite good too. If you feel like eating on the move, Covent Garden has recently been colonised by an excellent little food market in the vein of Borough, which does excellent street fare.
As for attractions, there’s the transport museum which I’ve never visited, and the Royal Opera House, which is London’s centre for opera and ballet. If you’re staying in the area, though, you’re close to most of what London has to offer.
– Cybercandy, Garrick Street: A Wonka-like sweetie emporium that specialises in bizarre and unusual sweets from all over the world. Here you can sample other countries’ sacrilicious spins on the dairy milk, buy a Japanese cheese kitkat or even scorpions encased in toffee. It’s a mind-blowing experience for anyone who loves sweets.
– Muffinski’s, King Street: A real high-quality muffin shop, Muffinski’s is unassuming but produces an amazing product. Muffins are served hot, and are jammed with fresh fruit. They’re the best I’ve ever tasted.
– The Tintin Shop, Floral Street: The UK’s only Tintin-centric shop, selling everything to do with Herge’s iconic boy reporter. The Tintin books are obviously incredible, but it’s great how much the shop highlights Herge’s beautiful, sparse ligne claire style, becoming in the process more like an art gallery than a traditional merchandise outlet.