After declaring just last week that I’m just not that into restaurant desserts, that I’d far rather prefer a sticky bun or great piece of chocolate than a fancy flourish of a dish, all smudges and smears but none of the substance, I’ve had the fortune of having to eat my words once again. When Peter of After Hours contacted me asking if I’d like to pop along to one of his evenings I didn’t have the strength to say no, after all the very concept of a coffee and dessert bar is potentially something I could very much get behind. The idea is that After Hours will team up with both a talented pastry chef, this time it’s creative food pioneers Free Company who have previously held residency at both The Endurance and House of Wolf, along with an independent coffee shop to create a dessert evening. Utilising an otherwise dormant but generally rather lovely space, as independent coffee shops tend to be, is genuinely for me a very appealing thing.
I went along with an open mind to Store Street Espresso and an ulterior motive; I’ve been dying to try the Coffee Collective beans they’ve had in for the last couple of weeks. The boy and I turn up at the Bloomsbury coffee shop set on a bijou little, almost arcade like, row of shops a little after 8, sessions finish at 11pm. We found we had a pick of atypical stylish wooden tables that are finished simply yet elegantly with twinkling candles, clean walls lined with numbered art and a row of paperbacks decorating a window ledge set the scene, other couples trickle slowly in.
A succinct menu of four desserts is offered, the options being to choose one with petit fours and coffee, or go the (almost) whole hog with three, we go a step further deciding to try one of each, however on this occasion we uncharacteristically share. I quite like the idea offered to the couple next to us of sharing all four, before choosing a favourite each to finish off with. A drinks menu is equally mercifully short for procrastinator me; I’m unable to resist starting with the aforementioned coffee offered as an espresso, it’s gloriously smooth with a delicious almond and chocolate sweetness. We quickly move to harder drinks, the boy a sweet red wine and I a cocktail designed by Happiness Forgets. My Jerezana is in danger of stealing the limelight tonight, a neat glass of Manzanilla and Amontillado sherries, sweet and dry vermouth, vanilla bean syrup and orange bitters. It’s utterly glorious and makes me question why the hell there aren’t there more sherry cocktails?! And then the desserts start arriving…..
It’s always interesting to see how a relatively incongruous list of ingredients as offered will be presented as artfully as you know they will be. Each of these, as expected, is a miniature work of art that rivals the walls, not just visually but in taking the taste buds on a clever little journey. We delight in identifying each ingredient individually and then comparing with the combined effect.
To start is Blackberries; smooth blackberry parfait is interspersed with flame toasted marshmallow, crunchy meringue drops, pickled blackberries and a perfectly sharp puree. I’m tempted to say this is my favourite, I love the balance between such sweet and tart.
Next is Honey; honey and rosemary parfait, mead gelee, plump raisins, sugar shards, honeycomb, sour apple gel and daubed with little sprigs of bee pollen that taste sharply of aniseed. That sour gel livening up and adding another dimension to an otherwise erring on the cloying dish.
Our third dish is another contender for top spot, Banana & Lime; roasted banana has a beautifully crispy caramelised crust, blobs of fromage frais and mouth puckering salted lime dance around the plate, and a banana and lime ice cream that is neither too sweet or sharp sits on a dirty great smear of brown butter paste.
Finally Chocolate & Coffee; I don’t think we quite do this one justice, instead of drinking from the artfully finished frothy heart topped takeaway cup, we dunk spoons in trepidation, fishing below the hay milk laced espresso drink to the whisky ganache below and create a bit of a wishy washy mess. It doesn’t stop us finishing though and we dig in with our biscotti to get the very last dregs.
A chocolate truffle each finishes the experience.
Despite having an idea of what to expect, I saw a couple of Instagram shots the evening before, I was fairly blown away with the well conceived and simple concept along with impeccable standard of the dishes brought out despite unexpected surroundings. I love the idea of resurrecting and reanimating a classically dead of evening space, creating a superficial warmth with the glow of candlelight, illuminating couples and transforming somewhere usually bathed in the stark light of day into something with rather more of a feeling of the secret and underground. I can’t enthuse enough about the experience we had. I’d advise having an earlyish and not too heavy dinner as we did so as to fully appreciate the complete dessert experience; a sweet exploration and the perfect nightcap.
There’s only a couple more weekends to catch After Hours in this incarnation before they take a break and return rejuvenated in a new form in April with a new set of chefs in a different coffee shop. My advice; catch them before they move on and then do it all again when they do!Tweet