£3.50, 102 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5EJ
It may be a drink, but we just had to have bubble tea on our list. It’s all about texture with this Taiwanese concoction: a fruit- or milk-based tea is specked with chewy boba – Malteser-sized tapioca pearls – which are sucked up through a wide straw. This hybrid drinking/chewing experience is quite unusual for Westerners, which might explain why these drinks haven’t yet broken through to the mainstream in London. Our favourite bubble tea is Boba Jam’s milky matcha green tea: stuffed with lots of boba, it brings a whole new, fun dimension to slurping.
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Afternoon tea: from £38 (excluding service), Corinthia Hotel, Whitehall Place, SW1A 2BD
If we had to pick just one of the dishes from Claire Clark’s pâtisserie, it would be the blueberry éclairs. They are only sold as part of the afternoon tea at this five-star hotel, but the tea is a must-try experience that can overwhelm the senses. The icing-topped éclairs are so tiny and pretty you’d think they’d been made by elves. Should you prefer something a tad more butch, order a slice of London’s best battenberg cake.
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£5, 39 Whitfield Street, W1T 2SF
Time Out gave Dabbous the rare accolade of a five-star review in February 2012. Within days, it was fully booked for weeks ahead. But if you are able to bag a table, you’ll find a highly original menu from young chef Ollie Dabbous. A ‘barley sponge’ is in reality a rum baba – but this yeast cake is a million miles away from the Harvester-type versions of the 1970s. This one is delicate and light, soaked in red tea, with a layer of Tahitian vanilla cream underneath. Dabbous being a rather creative chef, there is of course one big catch: the menu changes all the time, so the barley sponge might not appear on the menu on your visit. No worries, everything here is first rate.
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£8.50, 66 Baker Street, W1U 7DJ
The Galvin brothers have made a name for themselves by giving bistro cooking a relaxed sense of luxury. Their signature tarte tatin is a case in point. This is no flouncy ‘haute’-style individual (read: tiny) tart. Instead you’re served a huge rustic slice, piled with caramelised chunks of apple. These sit on a base of buttery puff pastry: rich, decadent, and sweet with syrup. A dollop of chilled crème fraîche cuts through it all beautifully.
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From £2, Gelupo, 7 Archer Street, W1D 7AU
One of our top ten dishes
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In spite of its proximity to Piccadilly Circus, Gelupo is anything but a tourist trap. No, this gelateria – the younger sibling of hip Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo, just opposite – prides itself on doing things differently. Sure, there are one or two predictable offerings (hazelnut, say), but most of the creations – from pine nut and fennel gelato to clementine sorbet – will blow your mind. And none more so than the blood orange granita, a dark, deeply intense ice experience made using only fresh fruit and cane sugar. Outstanding.
£1.90, 13 Charlotte Place, W1T 1SN
Head to Aussie-run café Lantana for some first-class melt-in-the-mouth friands. These moist little almond cakes, dotted with raspberries or blueberries, have become the archetypal Antipodean baked good - lamingtons, your days are numbered. But is the friand Aussie? Mais non, the French invented it. Known as the financier in France, the rectangular teacake was so-named because it resembled a bar of gold.
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Served as part of the set-price meal: from £19.50 for two courses, 67 High Street, SW19 5EE
Baked Alaska is a marvel of pyrotechnics which is frozen solid inside, but has a meringue case that protects the ice-cream centre from melting as the exterior is set alight. Alas, we’ve had a few in recent years that were not well done: the ice-cream was liquid at one notable trendy bar in Clerkenwell. Not so here, where chef Ollie Couillaud delivers a perfectly pert shell and frozen ice-cream to grinning customers. Job done.
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£1.05, 54 Golborne Road, W10 5NR
Born, legend has it, in Belem just outside Lisbon, these delectable Portuguese egg custards feature rich, chewy pastry and a still-richer sweet filling. Lisboa’s exemplary versions have been baked on the premises since 1982, and you’ll find no finer north of the Iberian Peninsula. If you’re lucky, your visit to this simple little café will coincide with the tarts emerging hot from the oven, but throughout the day you can guarantee they’ll be freshly baked; sprinkle them with cinnamon and order a bica (espresso) to counteract the sugar. A famous pit-stop away from the Portobello market kerfuffle.
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Two scoops £4.50, 32 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE
Morito is Moro’s little sister: a no-bookings tapas bar (at dinner, anyway) where the portions are small and the flavours big. We like the small plates, ordered from a hand-written board and made by a chef on the sizzling plancha as you watch, but it’s this creamy, heady dessert that really has our hearts. A Spanish version of the Italian affogato (vanilla gelato with a shot of hot espresso), this is own-made vanilla ice-cream studded with fat, boozy raisins and finished with a shot of sweet sherry (Pedro Ximénez) for added va-va-voom.
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£2.20, 14A Golden Square, W1F 9JG
Take a bite out of the Nordic Bakery’s signature cinnamon buns and you will understand why the Scandinavians are so obsessed with this baked treat. While there are many different versions across Scandinavia, the Nordic Bakery’s cinnamon bun follows a Finnish recipe: a nicely sticky, crusty outside hiding a light, buttery dough inside – all laced with swirls of pungent cinnamon and cardamom sugar. This decadent sweet treat is perfect with a cup of strong Finnish filter coffee.
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Scoop £2.30, tubs from £8.50 (half litre), 69 Northcote Road, SW11 1NP
Don’t go to a branch of Oddono’s expecting whizz-bang trickery or luxurious seating: these traditional gelaterias put the product centre stage. There’ll always be an excellent chocolate or pistachio on offer, but it’s really worth checking out their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/oddonos) or following their twitter account (@oddonos) to find out when the salted caramel is in town. Creamy and decadent, with sweet and salt coming through each lick, it’s shut-your-eyes-drown-out-the-crowds kind of good.
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£6, 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ
The chaps at Pizza East, perhaps sensing an approaching zeitgeist, wisely got on board the salt caramel bandwagon back in 2009. Their launch menu included this pud, and it’s as popular as ever – both at the original restaurant and at its younger sibling, Pizza East Portobello. The pastry base is plain, and a good thing too: the filling is so rich that it’ll make your eyes roll into the back of your head, especially when you finish each mouthful with a little of the accompanying crème fraîche. Share it with a loved one. Or not.
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£6.50, 61 Rupert Street, W1D 7PW
‘PB&J’, as the Yanks fondly call it, is the stuff of childhood memories. Even if you’ve never had one, Spuntino’s dessert spin on school lunchbox fodder is a must-try: the ‘bread’ is actually peanut butter ice-cream, and the ‘jelly’ in-between is a tart cherry jam. Sprinkled over the top is a sweet-salty peanut brittle to cut through all that sugar. Unforgettable.
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Custard doughnuts at St John Bakery
£2, St John Bakery, Arch 72, Druid Street, SE1 2DU (no phone)
When word got out that the St John Bakery had started selling its decadent custard cream-filled doughnuts (previously only available at the Clerkenwell bakery) at its Maltby Street arch on Saturday mornings, queues formed. Available from 9am, you’d best get there early to be rewarded with these pillowy, deep-fried treats, pumped up with glossy, fluffy, vanilla-speckled whipped custard. Simply glorious – and ideal with a strong coffee.
Find out more at www.stjohnbakerycompany.com