I’ve been bemoaning London’s lack of many good doughnut options for too long, it got to the point where I was quite seriously rolling out my own creations in a bid to get more good and more interesting doughnuts to the good people of this City, great coffee to go with would, of course, be an added bonus.
For a long, long time St John doughnuts reigned supreme, I wrote about them nearly two years ago when they were the highlight of any trip to Maltby Street Market, if not the sole reason for the dough promising pilgrimage for many. So, the excitement at seeing these, what we all felt at the time were infallible creations, despatched out to cafes and shops across the Capital, as an expansion of the St John empire, was sorely tempered by a creeping fear that they weren’t quite what they were. My eyes would light up greedily at seeing them on a counter; “lo” coffee and doughnuts finally together! Paired with London Borough of Jam fillings, this should have been THE fairy tale ending.
However, for some time now, I’ve been left with a nagging sense of faint disappointment, that superior doughnut itch not quite satisfied on too many more recent experiences; a concern that in expanding they’d diluted their magical quality, lost an illusive but essential ingredient; even those at the Maltby Street bakery didn’t have quite the soul restoring, hangover busting effects I once so looked forward to of a Saturday morning. The dough, maybe a touch heavier, maybe not quite as fresh (certainly in the case of those delivered elsewhere), the fillings, maybe not quite as firm and rich – oh, don’t get me wrong; still far and away better than anything else around, but those clutched and treasured brown paper bags, contained just not *quite* a filling worth the trek they once were.
There was a suspicion that this loss of a certain quality coincided with star doughnut baker Justin Gellatly’s departure. A number of us have, therefore, been keeping a keen eye on his subsequent venture, a bread stall at Borough Market called Bread Ahead that he heads up with Flour Power founder Matt Jones; this weekend he launched his doughnuts along with a whole range of baking classes. Clearly myself and fellow doughnut and Negroni addict @ClerkenwellBoy were unable to keep away…..
Justin had suggested we pop by the bakery first to say hi, so after a quick espresso at The Notes coffee truck (obvs), that’s exactly what we do, battling through swathes of food tourists, waves of cheese and meat aromas and stalls groaning with tempting produce and samples. Peering through the bakery window, we’re warmed to find Justin and his wife working busily over vast crates of doughy and sugary globes, piping and inflating the already plump orbs with heavenly fillings. He ushers us in and takes a few moments to show us around his bakery, a place of which he’s clearly proud; epicly sized dough mixers and a cleverly designed doughnut prover/fryer (WANT!!!) share space with racks of bannetons, ovens and centralised work spaces (so no-one has to work facing a wall) in a bright space flooded with the natural light from large windows. The aroma of rosemary from a batch of foccacia stirs my hunger to dangerous levels and we’re sent on our merry way with boxes of todays creations; zesty lemon curd softened with cream, classic custard and a salted caramel topped with honeycomb.
It’s the stuff of (my) dreams. The sun has bestowed it’s blessing on the morning, the subsequent warmth reinforced with the rosy glow of spending time with such an honest and hard working guy as Justin, who clearly cares about his staff and products in a way that is heart-pump, life affirming stuff. We find a quiet spot for the religious moment itself, blasting Instagram first, of course, and both select a doughnut. You knew we’d both choose the salted caramel, right? Of course we did. There’s no dainty way to do this, so face first it is; a snowstorm of sugar goes flying as I tear my way into the heavy doughnut, so full of caramel cream that at the half way point I retrieve a shard of honeycomb from the box and scoop it out like the best warm, soft serve in the world. I probably shouldn’t mention here, that I caught @clerkenwellboy going in with his hands…oops! It’s a doughnut unlike any I’ve encountered before; the dough a mere breath, a whisper of a shell to surround an indecent amount of filling, light as a sugary kiss finishing in caramel snog. It finishes us off and we pack the others away to share later.
It would be rude not to indulge in the full experience, and the scent of rosemary has lodged itself in my head anyway, so we head over to the Bread Ahead stall to admire crackled rye loaves, towers of brownies, a mesh of olive and cheese sticks, slabs of focaccia and lengths of Cathedral bread.
Oh, but I can’t finish here without a mention to the other doughnuts that have quickly popped up on the scene; the last few weeks has seen me increasingly gazing at images of a yellow door and crates of square doughnuts on Instagram. Last weekend, enough was enough, and a friend and I decided to check out 1235 Doughnuts on Columbia road ourselves. A last minute tweet, late on Saturday night crushed those plans so completely that we were bereft. As quickly as a doughnut shaped hole in our lives was created, it was filled via the reassurance that we could get them at Lockhart; this excited us no end as it’s a restaurant that is high on my list of places to visit for dinner, and our reasoning was that brunch would be even better. Well, what a roller coaster of an emotional weekend this was turning out to be; brunch dreams were dashed just as quickly as they had been proffered (they were already over subscribed – should have guessed this TBH) however they could fit us in for doughnuts. We were happy to take whatever we could at this stage and headed up on Sunday morning.
And, well isn’t Lockhart the cutest place? Sweet but not twee, breezy and bright, the restaurant could easily be a country farmhouse kitchen; it certainly feels far from the frenetic London outside. Full of wooden beams and light paint, reclaimed furniture and vintage crockery, it feels Southern and spacious, homely and calming. Service is the friendliest I’ve come across for a while and we sit, all civilised at a little wooden table by the door, whilst brunches are served all around us, taunting us, just out of our reach. It’s fine, we’re here for the doughnuts anyway; it seems to make sense to order one of each, so we do; salted caramel, chocolate and vanilla.
Attempting a modicum of decorum, we carve into the diminutive squircular doughnuts with a knife, careful not to displace too much of the filling and devour; politeness stops there as cream dribbles and sugar ends up all over the place. We wash down any embarrassment with bottomless cups of batch Union brew. Brad MacDonald and wife Molly’s creations are smaller and more gnarly than their Bread Ahead cousins, dough is slightly tighter, denser, crisper and less precise. That’s not to say they’re not fabulous – they are and I would have said best in show a week ago; chocolate is reminiscent of childhood memories, grainy with the memories of Nesquick and hot cocoa, vanilla is classic done well but it’s the salted caramel that is a clear winner. Of course.
I’m now desperate to return for brunches of smoked brisket hash, buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy, chicken and waffles, *that* cornbread and breakfast martinis. Not forgetting those doughnuts. Of course.
Are we entering a third wave of doughnuts to go alongside our beloved third wave coffee? Beyond the traditional English bakery, raspberry filled and bready numbers, and their cheap and cheerful American counterparts; Krispy Creme and Dunkin’ Donuts. Will we see more interesting flavour incarnations next please? Peach melba perhaps in Summer or raspberry and rose, violet and blackberry, rhubarb AND custard. When will we get candied bacon and whisky cream? Pistachio cream and violet glaze? Yuzu curd, salted artisan chocolate cream, vermouth glazes??
Or maybe that’ll remain my domain…..Hmmmm, I say bring it on!