Up until last year, Fabrique Bakery was a single location cafe in the backstreets of Hoxton, the only one the Scandinavian chain had opened outside of Sweden. Visiting it, and trying its much hyped cinnamon buns, used to require some serious willpower, unless you lived within easy reach of that particular corner of East London. That’s never been my case – but then again, lack of dedication isn’t in the list of my many flaws, least of all when it comes to indulging my sweet tooth.
I took the trip on a chilly winter Sunday in 2013. I got lost in an empty residential street while looking for the railway arches near the Overground station; as time passed, and I kept circling around in the cold, I wondered more than once whether I was in the right place at all. When I stepped inside, to find a bare room with hardly any seats and no cinnamon buns left, my first instinct was to walk away and write Fabrique off for ever. Perhaps, I reckoned, it was just not meant to be.
Things have changed for the better since then: between 2015 and 2016, Fabrique has opened two more cafes, in Covent Garden and Notting Hill. So now I have a branch close to home, and one close to work; and you, I hope, will find Fabrique easy to reach, no matter what corner of London you’re in or travel from. If you’re asking why you should go there at all, just look at their window display.
See? The proverbial picture worth a thousand words. I’m not sparing you my thousand words, though, because I have to tell you how wonderful these buns are. I tried them all: the cinnamon and cardamom buns, my favourites; the vanilla buns, which you’ll love if you’re after more traditional flavours (I prefer the other, less sweet varieties). The outside is sticky with syrup, the dough soft like only a good helping of butter can make it. The marriage of sugar and spices reveals that elusive perfect balance my home-baked versions somehow never achieve. Let’s face it: now I live ten minutes away from a branch of Fabrique, I’ll hardly ever make my own cinnamon buns again.
At £2.50 each, all the buns are great value for money (unlike the other cakes and cookies on offer, all similarly priced, but far smaller). Given how good they are, and how renowned, I have no doubt they would sell out even if they cost a couple pounds more. But they don’t; an approach that reminds me of a little-known neighbourhood bakery, like those you find off the beaten track in European capitals, rather than a London establishment with a devoted following.
The loaves of bread on the shelves are not there for decoration, either. Fabrique specialise in artisan sourdough bread, mostly made with dark flours, baked in a stone oven. It’s on the pricey side, but even a small portion can go a long way: my partner and I get four servings out of a quarter of a walnut boule (£3.50), and could easily stretch them to five or six, if we were less greedy.
When it comes to Fabrique’s bread, however, I find it hard to be anything but greedy. During the working week, when my packed lunch is soup or salad, my greatest pleasure is popping down to the Covent Garden cafe and buying a walnut roll to go with my meal. That soft texture, and the slight sweetness of the walnuts meeting the savoury dough, really are something special. I’m usually full after eating half of it, but once I start, the only way you could ever stop me is by snatching the bread from my hands and throwing it far away (I wouldn’t recommend that, unless you’re seeking the thrill of being cursed at by a very angry Italian).
Word to the wise: skip the coffee. I had Fabrique’s flat white twice, in Notting Hill, and found it so carelessly burnt, there hasn’t been a third time. A real shame, as nothing goes as well with a cinnamon bun as a cup of hot coffee. Consider this, though: with the money you save by not getting a hot drink, you can buy yourself another bun (and have some small change to spare). Talk about silver linings, eh?
I also have to warn you about the location. Fabrique’s cafes are cosy, and “cosy” is sometimes the very opposite of “comfortable”, like the shoebox studio flat in zone 6 your estate agent hasn’t stopped calling you about this week.
Both the Notting Hill and Covent Garden venues are tiny rooms with narrow counters; it takes skill for queueing customers not to get in each other’s way, or collide with the staff members waiting tables. Seating space feels like an afterthought, with tables so few, small and cramped, you won’t want to hang around any longer than necessary (unless you’re a Tetris master, in which case you might find some twisted pleasure in trying to fit food and drinks on your table top). It gets worse – at least in Notting Hill, where naked lightbulbs hang dangerously low above each table. They’d sure be a success on Pinterest; not so much in real life, where real people risk banging their real heads on the lamps when they leave their table, commenting the experience with words the children in the shop may not be supposed to hear. I am, erm, speaking for a friend of course.
You get my point: if you need a spot for a leisurely catch-up with friends, or a couple hours of uninterrupted work, Fabrique may not be your place. Order your food to go if the weather outside is not too grim, or squeeze in, and discover what an elephant in a China shop might feel like. Don’t make this a dealbreaker, though, as the bread and pastries are a hundred per cent worth the hassle.
Covent Garden: 8 Earlham Street, London, WC2H 9RY (nearest tube stations: Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road)
Hoxton: Arch 385, Geffrye Street, London, E2 8HZ (nearest Overground station: Hoxton)
Notting Hill: 212 Portobello Road, London, W11 1LA (nearest tube station: Ladbroke Grove)
Visit http://fabrique.co.uk/ for opening hours and contact details