A Soho legend, the original Patisserie Valerie opened in 1926 and moved to its present location on Old Compton Street after World War II. The cramped interior is a 1950s Parisian time warp, with a cake-stuffed glass counter at the front, a high ceiling and Toulouse-Lautrec cartoons on the walls. If you find the ground floor busy, go upstairs to the shop's brighter, larger cafe where there is more staff ready to serve you from another glass counter filled with sweets.
Snacks, light meals, afternoon tea and a fine breakfast are served along with all the sweet stuff. Your resistance may fail you when you see their tarts, mousses, flans and chocolate, strawberry and banana gateaux, not to mention handmade truffles.
I visited Valerie four times during my visit to London. Their loose leaf teas are generously served in a pot and their English breakfast is as fine as that of any hotel. The English breakfast includes two eggs (poached, fried or scrambled), English bacon, Cumberland sausage, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and toast. If you go in shortly after opening, you'll find tempting croissants in a basket ready to be eaten on your table. Their eggs, salmon and toast is an excellent alternative. On my last morning, I opted for an eggs benedict made of toasted brioche with grilled bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. As for the sweets, I just pointed and ordered it for 'take away' (the English term for 'to go').
The friendly staff and the varied clientele of office workers, students, tourists with the unique atmosphere make it a worthwhile visit. There are eight Patisserie Valeries scattered over central London with two more opening later in 2007. The Soho location was closest to my hotel and made for a nice start or break to the day. If visiting the Soho location during the evenings, keep all your valuables close to you. It is Soho after all and shall we say that 'louche habitues' (seedy regulars) are still a character of the area.
Visit www.patisserie-valerie.co.uk for a glimpse of their cakes, confectionary and ice creams. The site lists all their locations & hours and pdf menu for download. Below are pics of the well-set table that greeted me my last day in London and the facade of the Soho location.