By contrast with Fabrique, and its maiden cafe hidden away in Hoxton, Nordic Bakery was always in plain sight: the only thing I ever cared to look at in Soho’s Golden Square, with curious, eager eyes, like a cat waiting to be fed. If the million paths to the world’s most wonderful foods all cross in London, you can bet your ass I’ll follow the road to the best cinnamon buns.
It’s too bad that London is also the city of lengthy commutes from A to B, public transport meltdowns, and hour-long queues outside restaurant doors. The older and lazier I get, the less willing I am to put up with travelling half an hour, barely awake, hungry and deprived of caffeine, before settling down to eat breakfast. When I do, heaven forbid there are no seats left at my cafe of choice; heaven forbid the place is out of exactly the one thing I headed there for.
That’s usually just my luck: the first time I visited Scandinavian Kitchen, they had no cinnamon buns. The first time I went to Nordic Bakery (the Marylebone branch, which I hit on a Friday morning off work), a lady had just snatched a whole basket of them, leaving the cafe out of stock. Had I watched that happen, I’d have gifted her with the icy stare I usually save for screaming kids at airport check-in queues, or teenagers listening to Rihanna on loudspeaker at the back of buses. Then again, I couldn’t have timed my visit better: within ten minutes, a new basket full of freshly baked buns appeared. It was a turning point. I can think of many valid reasons to be wary of a cold pastry – it might look stale, the filling might be dry – but you’d have to be a brute to not enjoy a cinnamon bun straight from the oven.
I love Nordic Bakery’s buns just as much as as Fabrique’s, or Scandinavian Kitchen’s, although for different reasons. I prefer Nordic’s way of shaping them: the Finnish way, more akin to a pain au chocolat than a pastry swirl. I took immense pleasure in lifting my bun and feeling its weight, seeking reassurance, as if I was shaking an Easter egg to hear the surprise rattling inside. Indeed, the prize was there: a soft core underneath a golden crispy shell, not quite as rich in cinnamon and cardamom as Fabrique’s dough, but full of that comforting sweetness only the pairing of sugar and butter can conjure.
Nordic’s cappuccino reminded me of City Bakery in New York, where I was served a huge mug with so much milk, the coffee had long lost all hope to be saved from drowning. It was a necessary evil: breakfast is a subject Scandinavians and I don’t see eye to eye on. I function on fierce shots from tiny cups; they get through the day clutching on mugs of bland, watery filter coffee. They’d laugh at my homemade cinnamon buns, and argue the first meal of the day should be savoury; I wouldn’t trust them to make me an espresso worthy of mum’s moka, or my hometown’s neighbourhood cafes.
Nordic Bakery succeeded at making a cappuccino I can live with; I’ve had it again since my first visit, and won’t mind reordering it the next time around. With plenty of frothy milk, the coffee becomes pleasantly mild, free from the disgusting bitterness that makes me want to spit out a good half of the supposedly premium espressos I’ve had in this country. Go ahead, picture me rolling the R in “espRRResso” for the full Italian snob experience: I’m guilty as charged.
Now, I don’t see Nordic Bakery making it to my list of cherished cheap eats any soon. I have no issues with paying nearly £3 for a cinnamon bun, as quality and size justify it. On the other hand, seeing open sandwiches (read “tiny slices of bread with minimal topping”) priced well over £4 makes me cringe: if I wanted a £4.90 salmon tartine, I’d head straight to the Waitrose up the road, tube it back home, and make two for roughly the same price. £2.80 for my cappuccino also felt steep, although that might be my inner Italian snob talking again (“what’s with London and this oveRRRpriced coffee malaRRRkey?”)
Looking at the food on offer, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re being charged a surplus for the Scandinavian vibe – cosy interiors, pretty tableware, sleek furniture, and all that jazz. That’s nothing new, despite London’s recent craze for hygge: I had the same beef with Fika a couple of years ago, and my experience with 2015-established Snaps & Rye (which I’ve yet to review) was no different. The underlying assumption is that if you’re the type to appreciate eating in a peaceful, uncrowded, well-designed space, you also won’t mind paying more for the pleasure. I beg to differ: a sandwich the size of my palm is a sandwich the size of my palm, no matter where I’m having it. If I must spend £5 on a snack that will most likely leave me hungry, it’d better be the best sandwich-the-size-of-my-palm I’ve ever had. Anything less than that, and I’ll be off to where a fiver buys me a sandwich the size of my arm.
All that said, when it comes to deciding what I’ll remember Nordic Bakery for, I’m still going for the best cinnamon-bun-and-coffee combo I’ve had in London so far. There, I’ve said it. And I’m not taking it back, unless the contender that will change my mind is is the one I haven’t tried yet. Bageriet, this goes out to you – I’m coming for you soon, and you’ll have huge shoes to fill.
37b New Cavendish Street
London, W1G 8JR
(nearest tube stations: Bond Street, Baker Street)
Open 7.30am – 6.30pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 6.30pm Saturdays, 9am – 6.30pm Sundays
+44 (0)20 7935 3590