It might come as a bit of a surprise to those who know me well (and so know all about my fascination with hybrid desserts), but up until yesterday I’d never actually had a cronut.
While there are imitations aplenty to be found across London, *the* original by pastry chef-extraordinaire Dominique Ansel, always seemed out of reach – my last visit to New York was unfortunately timed right before the opening of his first bakery.
So having spent the last few weeks impatiently counting down to when his new home in London opens its doors on Elizabeth Street in Belgravia, it was with giddy excitement that I skipped over to a special friends and family preview ahead of its official launch on 30th September…
In Dominique Ansel’s inimitable style, the party kicked off with his famous cookie shots.
Shaped like a shot glass, the dark chocolate cookie dough was remarkably resilient, maintaining its firm texture (not a soggy side in sight) even as it was filled to the brim with ice-cold milk infused with Tahitian vanilla bean…
… And yet it was delightfully crumbly when bitten into, having first had a creamy slurp of the milk!
At last I was also able to try some of Dominique’s other famous creations from across the pond including frozen s’mores – a dreamy take on the quintessential campfire treat, torched on order in the open-plan kitchen…
Each bite gave way to a complex depth of layers – a warm and crunchy glaze on the outside, followed by soft and gooey bites of a honey marshmallow interspersed with crisp chocolate wafers, and finally a cool explosion of Tahitian vanilla ice cream. I couldn’t help but smile all the way through.
Also rather special was the DKA – Dominique’s caramelised take on the classic French pastry, kouign amann (pronounced kween ah-mon), which saw a crunchy crusted exterior give way to moist and crumbly layers of sweet and buttery dough.
And of course I finally had my first Cronut®.
Having amassed a cult following from day one, the croissant-doughnut hybrid is now a registered trademark of Dominique Ansel Bakery internationally.
As with all of Dominique’s other bakeries, flavours will change monthly in London too with the first Cronut here a salted butterscotch and cocoa nib special.
The fried yet exquisitely-flaky, sugar-rolled layers of laminated dough pulled apart as easily as a croissant would, revealing an airily-light and almost intoxicating burst of fresh butterscotch cream. The Cronut’s glaze featured more creamy butterscotch, skilfully punctuated by a handful of cocoa nibs which added a moreish bittersweet edge to it all.
Utterly smitten, I tried savouring each bite but ended up scoffing it down in a matter of minutes. It’s a good thing that Brits are not averse to queueing as I don’t doubt that the frenzied lines typically found outside his Stateside bakeries, will be a feature here in London too!
Although it was the Cronut which shot Dominique to the world stage back in 2011, he’s delivered so much more than just the one hit wonder. The fact that he’s still one of the most influential and loved pastry chefs today is arguably down to his knack for reinventing the wheel, while continually exploring the deep emotional connection we share with food.
Over a third of his menu in London features exclusive creations which reflect local influences.
Think mousse-cakes inspired by the moments just after the rain; salted honey tarts which celebrate the rooftop urban honey farms found across the city; and an upside-down banoffee pie made in a paella pan – a method which helps to caramelise the bananas, whilst preventing the upper crust from getting soggy!
My fast favourites from the evening included the Eton Mess Lunchbox – fashioned after the Korean style of lunchboxes in which the ingredients are shaken and mixed together!
The intricate assembly of strawberries (made of mousse and jam), mini meringues, fresh basil, a tinge of black pepper and fromage blanc, melded together in a perfectly imperfect jumble once the clear box had been given a vigorous shake. It was as sweet as an Eton Mess should be, but tart too with a slightly acidic bite to balance the complex symphony of flavours at play.
While savoury treats included the likes of a Welsh Rarebit croissant cocooning a rich cheddar béchamel and spiked with Guinness Worcestershire, mustard and fontina (a cow’s milk cheese).
But the real highlight of the evening was meeting the man of the hour himself, who instantly won my mother and me over with his disarmingly humble and friendly approach, not to mention his love of Indian food. We soon got around to exchanging insider tips on the best Indian eats in London and New York!
His Indian-inspired dosa mille feuille is one of several desserts which I can’t wait to try upon my return once the cafe is officially open.
It’s a cheerful and inviting space, effortlessly carrying over a trendy New York vibe. And yet there are local elements seamlessly woven in, with a light nod to the nearby Victoria station. Seating is mixed across high-top tables and more intimate banquettes, with a pretty outdoor courtyard too (shielded from London’s fickle weather with a fully retractable roof).
With Dominique’s name on the front door, queues outside are an inevitable fact of life. But his family is a hospitable bunch and you’re sure to be well looked after even while you wait.
Dominique Ansel Bakery, 17-21 Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, London, SW1W 9RP.