Baker & Spice, the Queen’s Park branch of the upmarket bakery and café, closed at the end of 2008. After more than a year of lying idle then a slow refurbishment, it has reopened as – an upmarket bakery and café. Some of the key people behind Gail’s (principally, Gail Mejia, née Stephens) were also behind Baker & Spice, and this is the fifth in a growing new chain, all of the branches in prime, affluent locations.
The refurb of the Queen’s Park site has given it a much more modern look. The front shop has had its big shared table and seats replaced with a ‘bread table’ display counter; the seating area has been moved through the back into a new extension.
This seated area isn’t as cosy as Baker & Spice used to be. Many diners have to eat off their laps when the place is busy, the hard surfaces reflect noise, and – unlike Baker & Spice – it’s not really a place to linger.
The displays of breads, pastries, sweets and cakes in the front shop are mouthwatering, all impeccable examples of their type. The prices are top-whack, but everything is top quality. Fans of Baker & Spice’s salad counter will, however, be disappointed to find it replaced by a chill cabinet of prepacked and plastic-wrapped takeaway cartons.
At the service counter sandwiches, small quiches and pies tempt instead. A small, snack-sized vegetable quiche with some salad leaves costs £4.60, while a ‘tiger bread’ (patterned crust roll) with an omelette and goat cheese filling costs £4.65. A ‘halva bun’ (actually more like a pain au chocolat: £2.95) and a croissant pudding (a variation on bread and butter pudding with a vanilla custard: £3.95) were both imaginative and unusual.
The gleaming La Marzocco machine was manned by a chap taking obvious care over making a cappuccino (£2.35), using beans from Union Coffee Roasters. The result was smooth with malty notes, finished with a pretty rosetta.
On our visit the place was packed with locals clucking over the reopening of an institution. With houses in the next street costing nearly a million quid, £4.20 for a tiny chocolate fondant cake doesn’t seem so much to pay.