Maison Bertaux is worth visiting for more than just their pastries. It’s an institution in Soho, and an open window into the universe of Michelle Wade, the owner.
This French bakery, which claims to be the oldest in London, opened its doors for the first time in 1871, when Monsieur Bertaux moved to London as a refugee after the siege of Paris by the Prussian army.
Michelle Wade began working in Maison Bertaux on Saturdays while studying Dramatic Arts. She was 14 years old and her boss was the son of Monsieur Vignaud, who Bertaux left his business to at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The pastry shop runs basically the same way it has for over 100 years. All the pastries, savoury items and doughs are made by hand every day in the shop. The trays full of cakes, quiches, croques, scones, pastries and desserts don’t stop descending from the floor above into the crowded shop.
Some of the pastries are so striking that passersby can’t help but stop and look at them. In the morning the croissants, eclairs and pains au chocolat are very popular. The lemon cake, cheesecake and the florentine are the best sellers and what Michelle recommends to new customers. The apple crumble and the almond and pear or apricot tarts are also delicious. The fruit tarts deserve a special mention as they’re not only beautiful and the reason why many people enter the bakery, but they’re also exquisite. The coffee is provided by the Italian brand Angelucci, and they buy their tea at nearby Algerian Coffee, founded shortly after Bertaux, in 1887.
Their pastries are as picturesque and baroque as the decor of the place. Michelle says Madame Vignaud kept the decor simple but since she took over in 1988, she’s filled the space with personal items with the theory that if you’re spending all day in a place, it should feel like home.
Michelle’s love for art can be seen in every corner of the shop, and often there are temporary exhibitions going on. The ambiance is appeal to many of their frequent customers, from older women discussing philosophy or politics to young people with outlandish clothes. The atmosphere is unique and according to many, is one of the few places that still has the spirit of Soho, especially in the mornings.
Price: 10 euros for a pastry and a coffee/tea
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:30am-11pm
Text and photos: Mónica R. Goya
Translation: Annie MacDonald